In one of the very few Hollywood idea theft cases to withstand a judge’s initial scrutiny, Universal Studios is headed towards an evidentiary hearing on Aug. 28 to examine the possibility of a forensic investigation into whether James DeMonaco, the writer and director of The Purge, doctored his emails to establish early creation of the horror film.
Douglas Jordan-Benel is the plaintiff in the lawsuit alleging the film about an annual 12-hour period where all crime is legal derives from his screenplay called Settler’s Day. Jordan-Benel further says he submitted his script to UTA and others in the entertainment industry for consideration and that accordingly, The Purge represents both a copyright infringement as well as a breach of an implied contract to pay him for use of his ideas.
Since the lawsuit was filed back in 2015, the stakes have grown. Not only because The Purge and its three sequels have grossed nearly $300 million in worldwide box office, but also because because Universal, Platinum Dunes Productions and DeMonaco failed to get the case thrown out with an anti-SLAPP motion and then were unsuccessful in killing the case at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
So the defendants have now turned to an attempt to establish that whatever the similarities between The Purge and Settler’s Day, DeMonaco independently created his work.
But when DeMonaco turned over documents in the discovery phase of the case, Jordan-Benel’s representatives saw some discrepancies that they suspected meant DeMonaco may have fiddled with timestamps. A demand was made for documents in native format to examine metadata as well as a forensic imaging of the screenwriter’s electronic equipment.
Judge Michael Wilner was going to allow a somewhat more limited discovery about discovery, as he put it, then pulled back and set the matter for an evidentiary hearing next week.
On Tuesday, both sides presented a summary of testimony at the hearing.