John Pacenti's federal courts report for April 11

Daily Business Review

John Pacenti is back and you won't want to miss this episode full of drama and Spanish soap opera heroines. John discusses the case of Telemundo's telenovela El Rostro de Analia.

Telemundo's Spanish-language telenovela El Rostro de Analia not only is a success in the Hispanic community, but its 170 episodes play in countries such as Serbia, Albania, Bulgaria and even Vietnam.

But a copyright infringement lawsuit against Telemundo Communications Group LLC claims the series is just carbon copy of a Venezuelan show in the late 1980s, Maria Maria, created by the same writer.

Latele Television C.A., a Venezuelan network, claims Hialeah-based Telemundo, a division of NBCUniversal, replicated its soap opera, Maria Maria, for the premise of El Rostro de Analia.

U.S. District Judge Robin Rosenbaum in Fort Lauderdale rejected Telemundo's motion to dismiss, ruling Tuesday that the lawsuit by Latele should go forward.

"Essentially, plaintiff asserts that El Rostro de Analia, which was written by one of the same authors as Maria Maria, is so substantially similar to Maria Maria as to infringe plaintiff's copyright in Maria Maria," she wrote in the 21-page order.

Latele attorney James Sammataro, a Miami partner at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan said his client through discovery will determine damages sought.

"We believe it was a money maker for Telemundo, and I think if we prevail on our claim we are looking for our fair share," he said.

A call to Telemundo's spokesman was not returned. Neither was one to the attorney in the case: Gregory W. Herbert, partner at Greenberg Traurig in Orlando.

Plot Twists

Maria Maria consisted of 198 episodes and ran on Venezula's Marte TV. It was premised on switched identities. Rosenbaum, in her order talks about one character's amnesia, a car crash that mixes up the identity of the lead character and her husband's mistress, and a kidnapping.

Telemundo hired the writer of Maria Maria, Humberto "Kiko" Olivieri Michelena, to write a telenovela for its network. The lead character of that series, El Rostro de Analia, was named Mariana, who also had an unfaithful husband.

As in Maria Maria, she confronts the mistress, a car crash occurs, and the two switch identities due to amnesia and facial burns. The mistress also is kidnapped.

El Rostro de Analia premiered in 2008 and attracted more than 1 million viewers. It was one of the network's highest-rated launches.

"Although El Rostro contains some elements and antagonists not found in Maria Maria, Latele describes these differences as 'cosmetic' as opposed to qualitative, aimed at masking that El Rostro is in fact simply Maria Maria updated and repackaged," Rosenbaum writes.

One difference between the telenovelas is that Maria Maria takes place in Caracas in the 1980s, while El Rostro takes place in Los Angeles.

Dismissals

Sammataro said Rosenbaum did a good job in discerning Telemundo's defense that any telenovela has limited plot devices, including amnesia, mistaken identity and betrayal.

"What the court said is there are a number of different ways you could have told the identity situation," Sammataro said.

He said Latele tried to work out a settlement with Telemundo but got nowhere.

"I don't think it's a big secret if you are a content owner — it's not a wise move to sue one of the two largest Hispanic networks," he said.

The lawsuit was filed in July to beat a three-year statute of limitations, he said.

Federal courts have not been kind to copyright infringement lawsuits of late.

A federal appellate court in Philadelphia last January upheld a lower court decision throwing out a lawsuit against rapper 50 Cent. A writer of a book about street gang life claimed lyrics from one of 50 Cent's songs were similar to passages in his memoir.

A New York federal judge also ruled this year against a writer who claimed actor Keifer Sutherland and Fox Entertainment Group stole the idea for the series Touch from his screenplay and novel.

Other recent decisions involving singer Elton John and actress Emma Thompson have gone in favor of the defendant.

"It's been a tough year for copyright plaintiffs. I think some of the cases have been a little tenuous," Sammataro said.

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