Monday 1 April 2013

More of the same? The plot thickens

Following on from the decision last week about the alleged similarities between two works about the life of ‘Effie Gray, comes news that a Florida judge has allowed an infringement  claim by a Venezuelan television network against an American television group over the plot of a telenovela to move forwards. Judge Robin Rosenbaum, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, ruled that Venezuela's LaTele Television CA can proceed with its copyright lawsuit against Telemundo Communications Group LLC, accusing the U.S. company of infringing the copyright in "Maria Maria," a LaTele telenovela about the adventures of a young woman with amnesia. The alleged copy, "La Rastro," is also about a young woman with amnesia. Refusing to dismiss the case, Judge Rosenbaum  said that although the distinction between an idea and its particular expression is "a lot easier stated than applied," the case could go forward, listing similarities in the two programs that included both main characters who, after confronting the husband's mistress, are severely injured in a car crash; the fact that both main characters have facial reconstruction surgery causing them to look exactly like the mistress; and that both characters also do not initially remember their original identities. Judge Rosenbaum also noted that "Maria Maria", which first aired in 1989, and "La Rastro" which premiered in October 2008, shared a writer. 

And in the final of three recent decisions on what is and isn't substantially similar, and one the swings back towards the decision in ‘Effie Gray’, US District Judge Dolly Gee has ruled that the 2011 film In the Land of Blood and Honey, Angelina Jolie’s directorial debut, is not substantially similar to a book on the Bosnian civil war, The Soul Shattering (Slamanje Duse) by Bosnian writer James J Braddock (Josip J Knezevic). Braddock claimed that the film, about a love affair during the Bosnian Civil War, violated his copyright in The Soul Shattering and that one of the film's producers, Edin Sarkic had read The Soul Shattering and there had been discussions over the possibility of creating a film adaptation of the book. The Soul Shattering is based on the true story of a Bosnian-Croatian woman rescued from a Serbian concentration camp by the camp's deputy commander - and after analysing the plot and sequence of both works, Judge Gee noted
that the film features a relationship between a female Bosnian Muslim artist and Serbian soldier, who meet again when the woman is a prisoner at a camp the Serbian's ruthless father is  overseeing. Both include escape sequences and brutal rape scenes, but Judge Gee said that Braddock, who now lives and writes in Croatia, can't claim to have "invented the concept of rape as a war crime" and said that whatever similarities there were they didn’t give rise to substantial similarity, "particularly in light of the fact that those overlapping concepts are commonplace in books and films depicting war" adding In The Land of Blood and Honey was primarily a story of betrayal, revenge and tragedy with little or no hope, while The Soul Shattering focuses on family, love and strength. Jolie had said she got the idea for the book after travelling to Bosnia as a UN goodwill ambassador.

With Effie Gray and In The Land of Blood and Honey, both 'plots' were based on real life scenarios, albeit added to  - the historical life of Effie Gray - and the Bosnian civil war. The Maria Maria claim is, in contrast, based on a wholly fictional plot. In between one might put the claim brought by by the Authors of The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail against Dan Brown, author of the Da Vinci Code - where is was alleged that the 'central theme' of the HBHG had been copied by Brown. At the Court of Appeal, refusing the appeal against the judgment of Mr Justice Peter Smith that whilst six chapters of the DVC had been drawn from the HBHG, there had been no copying, Mummery LJ said “Original expression includes not only the language in which the work is composed but also the original selection, arrangement and compilation of the raw research material. It does not, however, extend to clothing information, facts, ideas, theories and themes with exclusive property rights, so as to enable the Claimants to monopolise historical research or knowledge and prevent the legitimate use of historical and biographical material, theories propounded, general arguments deployed, or general hypotheses suggested (whether they are sound or not) or general themes written about. "

LaTele Television CA v. Telemundo Communications Group, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, No. 12-22539. 

James Braddock v Angelina Jolie, GK Films and Others United States District Court Central District of California CV 12-05883 DMG (VBKx). You can view an annoyingly "branded"  Pdf of the judgment from the Hollywood Reporter here.

More at  and from the Hollywood Reporter here

Baigent and Leigh v The Random House Group Ltd [2007] EWCA Civ 247  the decision can be found here 


Ben said...

And another one!

A New York judge has thrown out a lawsuit that targeted Warner Music over the 2009 Muse album 'The Resistance' in a case brought by American songwriter Charles Bollfrass who claimed that the last three tracks on that album, a trilogy under the title of 'Exogenesis', were copied from a concept he had devised in 2005 for a rock opera of the same name. Bollfrass had said he had contacted Muse but the band called the claims "complete nonsense", and denied having previous knowledge of Bollfrass or his 2005 project. The court ruled that the 'plot' was too abstract to constitute any sort of infringement of the songwriter's rock opera screenplay, even if the band had been previously exposed to the claimant's work.

Ben said...

And one more, this time looking at 'adaptations' or 'derivative works' - and with a judge comparing a hamster with a blue whale with a sparrow!

john walker said...

Ben that one is priceless!

Ps Funny thing is that a proper study of the science of Clade and a better understanding of the "origin of the species" would really help in this area , all originality begins in copying(reproduction) that goes a bit badly.