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New developments in the Chase-Riboud case: January 1998

There have been several new developments in Barbara Chase-Riboud's legal battle against Dreamworks SKG over the past several weeks.


Barbara Chase-Riboud sues to enjoin Amistad from debuting in France

Although Amistad debuted in the United States in early December 1997, it is not scheduled to debut in most European countries until February. Dreamworks plans to debut the film in France on February 25, 1998.

Ms. Chase-Riboud lost her bid for a preliminary injunction in the United States, but this ruling, made under U.S. copyright law, has no formal effect in France. Accordingly, Ms. Chase-Riboud is suing to enjoin the French release of the film.

France takes a starkly different view of intellectual property rights than the United States. French copyright law is grounded in the notion of "moral rights," and generally gives original authors significantly more protection than U.S. law.

On Monday, January 26, Ms. Chase-Riboud's French lawyer said that they would wait until later in the week to formally file suit. He said he was waiting to see if settlement talks between Chase-Riboud and Dreamworks in the U.S. bore fruit.

Settlement talks begin in Chase-Riboud v. Dreamworks

Although Ms. Chase-Riboud lost her December bid to enjoin the debut of Amistad in the United States, her main suit is still pending. If she wins that case, scheduled to be heard this spring, Dreamworks stands to lose $10 million.

In late January, attorneys for both sides met to discuss settling the case. According to some reports, Ms. Chase-Riboud rejected Dreamworks' initial six-figure offer.

Spielberg sued for alleged Twister plagiarism

The plagiarism lawsuit against Steven Spielberg and Michael Crichton over the 1996 film Twister ended on Thursday (Jan. 29). The jury in the federal case decided for Spielberg and his co-defendants. Plaintiff Stephen Kessler says he plans to appeal the decision.

Kessler's suit against Spielberg, Crichton, and other studio defendants opened earlier this month in federal court in St. Louis, Missouri. Kessler claims that Spielberg and Crichton read Kessler's screenplay and copied it in order to produce Spielberg's 1996 film, Twister. On January 21, Crichton testified in the case, claiming he'd never heard of or met Kessler. Chrichton said the film was inspired by a 1984 episode of PBS's "Nova" series and the film His Girl Friday.

On January 25, Spielberg testified, denying charges of plagiarism, and that he had never seen nor read Kessler's screenplay, "Catch the Wind." He said his interest in the film stemmed from his "lifelong interest in tornadoes."

Kessler caused a stir in the courtroom when, while testifying on January 20th, he brought up the fact that Spielberg was also being sued over Amistad. The judge and Spielberg's attorneys had hoped to keep the Twister jury from hearing about Spielberg's other lawsuit.


Prepared by Michael Peil for the Legal Information Institute. Last edited 30 January 1998 at 05:56.