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‘Amistad’ day in court early

Author Barbara Chase-Riboud is getting her day in court — and she’s getting it on the day she wanted.

A U.S. District Court judge has agreed to hear arguments for a preliminary injunction motion that seeks to block the release of DreamWorks’ “Amistad,” and has agreed to hear the arguments two days before it opens.

The motion had been set to be argued before judge Audrey Collins on Dec. 15, five days after “Amistad’s” scheduled release.

But on Friday, the writer’s lead counsel, Pierce O’Donnell, and the studio were advised by Collins that the hearing has been moved to Dec. 8. (The film is scheduled to bow in Los Angeles and New York on Dec. 10 and to go wide Dec. 12.)

Chase-Riboud’s $10 million lawsuit against DreamWorks claims the studio used her book “Echo of Lions” as source material for the film.

It is rare for a court to order a film recalled once it is released, so the pre-release hearing is good news for the O’Donnell team.

(Courts are more likely to OK the blocking of a bow if the dispute involves copyright issues and the plaintiff has a reasonable probability of prevailing at trial.)

The preliminary injunction hearing will be the first public arguing of some of the key issues in the case. The court’s involvement has so far consisted mainly of the plaintiff’s requests to screen the film and get copies of the script — motions the court granted.

Chase-Riboud’s attorneys and expert witness Stanford Whitmore viewed the film Nov. 17. DreamWorks attorneys have until Wednesday to file papers opposing the injunction.

Bert Fields, attorney for DreamWorks, has characterized the lawsuit as meritless, saying that no one can copyright historical events. Fields, who has read “Echo of Lions” and seen “Amistad,” maintained that no elements from the book made their way into the film.

O’Donnell said he considers the court’s move to an earlier date as “a significant development.” He acknowledged that winning such injunction motions are rare, “but the facts in this case really (support) such a ruling,” he told Daily Variety on Nov. 18.

Chase-Riboud filed a $10 million lawsuit on Oct. 16, claiming DreamWorks lifted characters, incidents and relationships from her book, a 1989 historical novel that chronicles a true-life revolt aboard a Spanish slave ship.

The scribe’s attorneys have produced what they claim is a “paper trail” connecting the book to DreamWorks and “Amistad” scripter David Franzoni.

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