Entertainment Law Reporter
June 2006 Volume 28 Number 1

Claim that Michael Chabon’s novel “Summerland” was copied from movie treatment is shown to be fraudulent, because treatment referred to Palm Pilots repeatedly but was allegedly submitted to Disney almost a year before Palm Pilots were introduced

Summerland, Michael Chabon’s novel for young readers, was not copied from a movie treatment written by Judith Shangold and Ronnie Niederman. Federal District Judge William Pauley has made that finding, in the bluntest terms possible.

Shangold and Niederman did in fact send Disney a series of treatments written for a children’s animated theatrical feature titled “Starmond the Wizard”; and Disney did in fact read and reject those treatments. Disney owns the company that published Chabon’s novel. So Shangold and Niederman made the usual allegations about how Disney must have passed their treatments to the publisher, which must have passed them to Chabon, who must have copied them while writing his book.

Apparently there were some similarities between Chabon’s novel and one of the treatments that Shangold and Niederman claim to have submitted. Hence, their lawsuit.

Someone at Disney, or at its law firm, did some sleuthing and made a remarkable discovery. The one treatment that was similar to Chabon’s novel – a treatment that Disney had no record of receiving or reviewing – referred to Palm Pilots a half dozen times. Palm Pilots, however, were not introduced until almost a year after Shangold and Niederman claimed they sent that treatment to Disney. And the term “Palm Pilot” wasn’t even used internally by the company that makes the devices, at the time Shangold and Niederman claimed they submitted that treatment.

Judge Pauley was not amused. He said that Shangold and Niederman “fabricated evidence” and “perpetrated a fraud on the court.” For that reason, the judge said, “they have forfeited their right to litigate this case.” And he dismissed it, awarding attorneys’ fees to Disney.

Shangold v. Walt Disney Co., 2006 WL 71672 , 2006 U.S.Dist.LEXIS 748 (S.D.N.Y. 2006)