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A federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit against the makers of the hit film “Spider-Man,” ruling that the movie’s digitally remodeled Times Square is entitled to First Amendment protection. The suit, filed in April by owners of several Times Square buildings and billboard companies, alleged trademark violations and unfair competition against Columbia Pictures, owned by Sony Corp. of America, for superimposing advertisements on billboards that appear in “Spider-Man” and its trailers. In one instance, Columbia substituted a USA Today ad for a neon Samsung sign located at Two Times Square, according to the court. Sherwood 48 Associates, which owns the building, also alleged that the changes would confuse film viewers, and that Sony trespassed on its property by using laser technology to digitally film the building. Judge Richard Owen dismissed all those claims with prejudice in Sherwood 48 Associates v. Sony Corporation of America, 02 Civ. 2746, a brief, whimsically written ruling that opens by recounting the contentious scene: an encounter between Spider-Man and his evil archrival, the Green Goblin, among thousands gathered at Times Square. “What exists here is for artistic purposes a mixture of a fictionally and actually depicted Times Square, which is central to a major scene in the movie,” the judge wrote. The judge noted that Columbia digitally remodeled scenery in other ways, such as moving New York City’s Municipal Building. Judge Owen dismissed the claim of confusion, noting that advertisements continually change in Times Square. He also said the trespass claim, for “bouncing a laser beam off a building,” was without merit. “Light beams bounce off plaintiffs’ three buildings day and night in the city that never sleeps,” Owen wrote. This type of suit is not new to Sherwood, which sued CBS in 1999 after the network superimposed its logo on the side of the Sherwood building during its New Year’s Eve coverage, obscuring a logo for rival NBC. The incident garnered considerable attention in the press, and CBS anchorman Dan Rather later called the move a mistake. Sherwood and CBS settled that suit out of court. Bruce P. Keller and Michael R. Potenza of New York’s Debevoise & Plimpton represented Sony. Anthony J. Constantini and Gregory P. Gulia of Philadelphia-based Duane Morris, and Daniel J. Warren and Carrie A. Hanlon of Sutherland, Asbill & Brennan in Atlanta, represented the building owners and sign companies.

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