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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Q. I have written a screenplay inspired by the universe originally created by [writer] in which [critters] have taken over the world. Although my own hook, story, characters and dialogue differ from any of his currently made films, there is one similarity in the opening sequence of mine to the opening sequence in one of his.
This is a question of fact, not of law, and facts are determined by juries. And you want to stay away from juries.

Does one similarity constitute illegal violation of copyright? Probably not.

Can they sue you? Probably. Anyone with a thousand bucks can file a suit.

Will they sue you? Probably not. Who needs the headache?

Will it get thrown out of court? Maybe. But probably not -- cases are usually dismissed only if the judge believes the plaintiff would lose even if the facts are as he alleges.

So you gotta ask yourself a question: are you feeling lucky?

One the other hand, movies rip each other off all the time. If your [critter] film has a similarity to another [critter] film, many will consider an homage, a parody or a shout-out. George Lucas doesn't get to copyright the idea of an opening crawl that recedes into the background, though he could probably sue you on trademark grounds, unless you're doing a parody, in which case you're probably okay.

But copyright is not your main problem. The script will get rewritten before it gets to the screen anyway. But anyone reading your script who likes [critter] films will remember [writer]'s opening sequence and think, Jeez, this guy didn't even bother to come up with a fresh opening! And chuck your script into the recycle bin.

Your first idea is rarely your best. Why not use the similarity as a wake-up call. Come up with something fresher -- and more personal to your own creative perspective!

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"George Lucas doesn't get to copyright the idea of an opening crawl that recedes into the background..."

Serials-ly speaking:

That title motif was actually taken from the Flash Gordon serials, and was also used in the 2 Green Hornet serials, but in their cases they supered the titles over stock footage action instead of a field of stars.

When a television monitor comes on in Phantom Menace it mimics the sound and twisting image of a "tele-viewer" from the Buck Rogers serials.

Your mad pulp (and serial) bastard,


By Blogger Bill Cunningham, at 5:41 PM  

There was a big scandal several years ago. Trying to prove how dumb studio readers were, some prankster submitted the script of Casablanca, word for word, but with the names changed. When it was rejected out of hand, he claimed this was proof that the readers were idiots who couldn't recognize quality. Just the opposite. They were film literates who could spot a rip-off when they saw one.

After the broohaha about the Island, I'll bet studios are going to be careful about similiarities, intentional or otherwise.

By Blogger Lisa Hunter, at 8:11 PM  

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