Filmmaker Spielberg Didn't Infringe `Rear Window' Copyright, Judge Rules

“Disturbia,” the 2007 film made by Steven Spielberg’s production company, didn’t infringe the copyright of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” or the short story that the older movie was based on, a New York judge ruled.

“Disturbia” isn’t “substantially similar” to the murder mystery “Rear Window,” U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain said in a ruling yesterday in federal court in Manhattan.

The Sheldon Abend Revocable Trust, the copyright holder for the story on which “Rear Window” is based, sued Spielberg, Dreamworks LLC and Viacom Inc.’s Paramount studio, alleging similarities between the two works.

“The total look and feel of the works is so distinct that no reasonable trier of fact could find the works substantially similar within the meaning of copyright law,” Swain said in her summary judgment ruling.

“Murder From a Fixed Viewpoint” was written in 1942 by Cornell Woolrich and first appeared in “Dime Detective Magazine,” according to court papers. Hitchcock’s adaptation came out in 1954.

In “Rear Window,” James Stewart plays an injured photographer convalescing at home who spies on neighbors in a New York apartment building and comes to suspect that one of them murdered a woman. In “Disturbia,” Shia LaBeouf plays a teenager under house arrest who spies on his neighbors and suspects one is responsible for the disappearance of several women.

Clay Townsend, a lawyer for the Abend trust, and Scott Goldfinger, a lawyer for Spielberg, didn’t return messages for comment. Abend died in 2003.

A previous “Rear Window” copyright infringement lawsuit, filed by Abend after Universal Pictures re-released the film in 1983, went to the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court ruled in 1990 that the moviemaker had infringed Abend’s copyright. The parties entered into a licensing agreement after the ruling.

The case is The Sheldon Abend Revocable Trust v. Spielberg, 08-07810, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

To contact the reporter on this story: Don Jeffrey in New York at djeffrey1@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: David E. Rovella at drovella@bloomberg.net

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