Posts In "Idea Theft"

Idea Theft




Why a High-Concept Idea Makes for a Low-Grade Lawsuit

At some point — probably during a conversation with one of your insufferable film school friends — you may have heard a movie described as “high concept.”  Although the phrase sounds like it should describe something terribly sophisticated and respectable (like Downton Abbey with a twist of Kenneth Branagh), it usually actually refers to the opposite, i.e., any artistic work that can be easily described by a simple premise.  A movie pitch from 30,000 feet.

A good high concept project can be summed up in a short “what if?”  (What if dinosaurs could be clonedWhat if the world was all one big virtual reality lieWhat if a man had to live the same day over and over?)  The best (and worst) high concept projects can be understood by their names alone.  (Planet of the Apes [best].  Planet of the Apes [worst].  Jaws [best].  Snakes on a Plane [worst].  Ace Ventura:  Pet Detective [best].  Hobo With a Shotgun [best of the worst].)  And while some high concept projects can be elevated by good storytelling and universal themes, usually we aren’t talking about great works of art.

Audiences and studio marketing executives both love high concept fare.  But from a lawyer’s perspective, when a dispute arises and you’re worried that someone may have stolen your work, the higher your concept, the lower your chances in court.  That lesson may soon be learned the hard way by comic book artist Steven John Busti, whose 1995 9-page comic, Cowboys and Aliens, is (at least in title) just an AP style guide edit away from the 2011 film, Cowboys & Aliens (and the 2006 graphic novel series on which it was based). Continue reading the full story . . . »




Q&A: Can I Create a Film That’s “Inspired By” a Short Story Without Acquiring the Rights?

Q:  I was wondering if you could help me with a problem I am having with the rights to a short story.  I have been in touch with the relevant owners of the copyright and they have been told by the author’s estate they are not allowed to do anything with the rights to the story.  However, what I am wanting to do with the story is not a direct adaptation — but more of an “inspired by.”  What I am wanting to do is a 60 minute TV one off.  The only thing I am desperate to hang on to is the short story’s “twist” and elements of the central dilemma. Where would I stand with moving ahead with different character names, different structure, but retaining the twist and profession of the central character from the short only – crediting only “inspired by”?

A:  Copyright law doesn’t protect ideas – it protects the expression of ideas.  This is a simple concept in theory, but applying it to a particular situation could be challenging.  For several excellent, definitive, and thought provoking discussions of this topic, please see our blogContinue reading the full story . . . »




The Law of Ideas 101: Court Rules Disposable Diaper Case Stinks and Needs to Be Tossed

Last Friday, a federal district court in Michigan dismissed the complaint of Richard Pollick, the alleged creator of “diaper jeans,” i.e., disposable baby diapers designed to look like jeans (truly, an invention on par with the piano key neck tie). Pollick registered a copyright for his “Diaper Jeans artwork” in February 1981 and sent the design to Kimberly-Clark Corp. later that year. Kimberly-Clark Corp. eventually started selling Huggies “Jeans Diapers,” and Pollick filed a lawsuit.

Amazingly, this is the second bathroom-related infringement lawsuit to cross our path at Law Law Land in the last few months, proof that you are never truly safe, even on the comfort of your own commode. Unfortunately for Pollick, however, the court took one whiff of his claim and tossed it, ruling that “a simple visual comparison shows that not only are the diapers not substantially similar, they are substantially different….”

Let’s take a look at the evidence. Continue reading the full story . . . »




Q&A: Why Should I Secure Nonfiction Book Rights for Historical Events and Figures?

Q: I read in the trades that a studio bought the rights to a nonfiction book based on a historical figure during the Gold Rush – Deadline. If historical events/figures are open game for the public to write about, when is it necessary to secure nonfiction book rights? If not legally necessary, is there any benefit in doing so?

A: Nikki Finke has taken over Hollywood (news) and has become the “trades.” Just like this blog has taken over ultra lucrative entertainment law blogging, I’m pleased to report, bankrupting, forcing into foreclosures, and running out of town most of our feeble competition. No wonder Nikki is a devout fan of this blog. (Or so I’m told by our go-to anonymous, ax-to-grind source; or maybe the source was talking about Nicky Hilton? It’s hard to know; the source was wasted.) Continue reading the full story . . . »




Coming Soon to a Theatre Near You: The Social Network II

Monday brought two interesting developments in the never-ending saga of people trying to pry shares of Facebook from Mark Zuckerberg. First, the lawsuit that spawned the uber-successful film The Social Network — and a damn fine blog post about the same— seemingly came to an end. (I assume Zuck clicked “Like” next to the story.) And second, the lawsuit that will inevitably spawn The Social Network IIsuddenly got a lot more interesting. (And maybe now Facebook will take those long-standing calls for a “Dislike” button more seriously.)

“At Some Point, Litigation Must Come to an End. That Point Has Now Been Reached.”

First, something the wunderkinds at Facebook can party about. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the attempts of Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss (not-so-affectionately referred to as the “Winklevii” in the movie) to set aside a settlement agreement which purported to resolve their claims against Facebook. Apparently, the Winklevii will have to live with $165 million (based on current estimates). And although Judge Alex Kozinski’s opinion rejecting their appeal isn’t nearly as sexy and exciting as Aaron Sorkin’s depictions of the heated depositions during the case — all in favor of just having Sorkin write real life for the rest of us, say aye — there are some legal concepts worthy of note, as well as a few choice samples of judicial snark. [Ed. Note: Aye.] Continue reading the full story . . . »




Q&A: Am I Okay to Proceed with a Script Based off a Novel I Covered for Someone Else?

Q: A few months ago, I wrote coverage on a non-fiction novel for a production company. Now, I’m interested in writing a screenplay on the same subject matter. If I sell the script to another studio, can the production company sue me? Granted, it deals with a well-known aspect of Polish jazz [the novel's subject matter has been changed], but truthfully, I would never have been interested in the project had I not been paid to write the coverage. Help me!

A: Help is on the way, dear fan of Polish jazz, but truthfully, the help you need is not legal (isn’t not legal same as illegal?). You’re not alone, nobody would be interested in this project unless they were paid, and not even then, and then not even. Okay, I suppose Polish jazz is more pleasing to the ear than Brazilian jazz, but only marginally. Polish jazz once heard once can’t be unheard. You can’t unbutter that toast. But this is just my personal, uninformed opinion, as are most of my opinions. In fact, and I’m disclosing attorney-client privileged information here, two studios are fast tracking big budget Polish jazz projects as we speak, although they focus on the lesser known aspects of it. So you’d better hurry up with yours. Continue reading the full story . . . »




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