Judge takes wind out of Sayles suit

A Virginia district court judge has thrown out a lawsuit against helmer/scripter John Sayles over copyright infringement on the Oscar-nominated film “Passion Fish.”

In a Dec. 20 ruling, Judge Claude M. Hilton tossed out the complaint of Washington, D.C., attorney Virginia Towler that claimed Sayles had stolen her script “Crossed Wires or Bobbie and Wendy Were Neighbors” and turned it into “Passion Fish.”

Hilton ruled that Towler showed no evidence that Sayles had access to her screenplay before he started filming his own. “And there is no evidence,” he continued, “just not a scintilla of evidence upon which a reasonable jury could find that he did have access.”

Just a month earlier, Hilton rejected a motion from Sayles to dismiss the suit because of claims by Towler that she had given her script to a Sayles assistant.

Towler claimed that she had submitted a script to an employee of SCS Films, who promised to give it to Sayles. According to an open letter from Sayles to the media, the former SCS employee, Shelby Stone, testified that she never sent Towler’s screenplay to Sayles.

In the letter, Sayles said Judge Hilton rejected his dismissal plea because of Towler’s claim that SCS was owned or operated by Sayles. “Very early on in the trial, those representations were found to be completely false,” Sayles said.

Sayles claimed a “handwritten” version of “Passion Fish” existed long before Towler asked anyone to pass her script on to him. He called the “substantial similarities” between the two works “at best, surreal.”

Towler said she would appeal the decision.

“I said it was going to be difficult and it is, especially when people are basically lying on the stand,” she said.

Towler’s suit was filed against Sayles; his two corporations, Atchafalaya and Esperanza; and “Passion Fish” distributor Miramax Films.

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