The entertainment industry exists due to the opportunity to exchange ideas and use a wide range of expressive means in order to control people’s emotional energy. It makes the consumers of media products happier, distracting their attention from concerns and problems. Even though the idea of the entertainment industry is quite clear (to give people emotional release and, if necessary, support), many people related to the industry understand that unique ideas act as an important source of money, and they do their best in order to protect their intellectual property. Speaking about copyright cases, it is necessary to pay attention to Hollywood in the middle of the last century. During that period, Hollywood filmmakers had numerous difficulties when it was necessary to use characters that famous actors of that time had already played. Among the actors who were involved in copyright infringement cases, there were Charlie Chaplin and James M.Cain (Decherney 30). Due to a great number of issues related to the use of plots and characters, the courts of the United States started developing new practices, helping to distinguish between original characters and their look-alikes.
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Apart from the cases that encouraged the courts of the United States to invent new explanations and thoroughly examine them to prove copyright infringement, there were others that involved too many similarities between movies. Discussing such cases, it is important to remember famous natural horror movies devoted to sharks. Great White, a movie that appeared more than thirty years ago, was destined to become extremely popular in Italy and the United States. Despite the fact that the box office sales revenue was quite large, the movie under consideration was banned from release after a high-profile copyright infringement scandal. The first attempt to prevent the distribution of the given movie was made by Universal Studios prior to its first public presentation in the United States.
The representatives of the film studio believed that Great White was very similar to Jaws, a movie that had been released almost six years earlier. Nevertheless, the claim of the film studio was not satisfied. Four weeks later, the studio made an additional attempt to redress an injustice and prevent the misuse of the story told in Jaws, the movie that was based on an eponymously named book. Having reviewed the plots of these two movies and the ways that visual expressions were used, one of the courts in California established that there were numerous similarities between these movies. Apart from the use of the same genre, the characters from these movies were quite similar to each other. Due to the efforts of Universal Pictures, film providers were deprived of an opportunity to use the movie in the United States.
It is extremely important to take the case of Great White into account as the latter is often listed among the movies that do not possess any artistic value on their own. Discussing the case of Great White and the inability of its screenplay writers and director to make the movie more unique, many researchers claim that the movie presents a copy of Jaws of questionable quality (Verevis 272). Regarding numerous similarities between movies, the court was paying attention not only to some formal elements that are usually included in the analysis, such as the use of color, plot, specific details, and key themes from movies. Considering that the themes used in these two movies were quite different, it was decided to pay attention to the general impression of common consumers.
Another notable copyright case that needs to be mentioned involves the participation of Art Buchwald (a successful author) and Paramount Pictures Corporation (Greene 131). The case under consideration is listed among the most famous scandals of the 1990s that have helped to establish the most recent rules, regulating the collaboration of scriptwriters and large film studios. Coming to America is a famous comedy film about an African prince who tries to find a bride in the United States. The financial success of the movie was obvious, and many people wanted to watch it due to the cast of characters. Nevertheless, some people were extremely unhappy about the success of the movie. Arthur Buchwald, a famous satirist, journalist, and scriptwriter, filed a lawsuit against Paramount Pictures Corporation in order to redress an injustice. Buchwald claimed that Paramount Pictures Corporation had used his idea to film a movie about an African prince and invite Eddie Murphy to star.
According to him, the film studio refused to buy his idea, and it resulted in a lawsuit against the organization. Arthur Buchwald had enough evidence to prove that he was the first to forward the idea of the comedy film about a prince from Africa. The legal wrangling was preceded by numerous changes related to the terms of collaboration. Initially, Buchwald encouraged the representatives of Paramount Pictures Corporation to get acquainted with his draft of the movie script, and they agreed to use it to create a new movie. After some period of time, the company informed the author about their unwillingness to use his script, and Buchwald decided to establish collaboration with Warner Brothers Production. After the second refusal, Buchwald found out that Paramount Pictures Corporation was going to use his script illegally (he was not mentioned as an author). The court acknowledged that the movie studio had violated Buchwald’s rights, and Paramount Pictures Corporation was urged to pay a large compensation.
Copyrights cases in the film industry of the United States are numerous, and the creation of Hollywood films is regarded as “the most expensive art” (Bahar 537). Considering a range of risks that can impact the success of movies, moviemakers try to give special consideration to external analysis in order to avoid being accused of copyright infringement. Nevertheless, there are cases when claimants spread wrong information, trying to fulfil their own financial goals. For instance, the case of Alien vs. Predator remains one of the most prominent examples of such tendency (Bahar 537). Eight years ago, a scriptwriter named James Muller accused the creators of the movie using his movie script. Trying to prove his point, the claimant used a few arguments concerning the opulent similarity between the two scripts. Having reviewed the case and the materials provided by the claimant, the court established that the degree of similarity between two scripts was very low. In fact, the only thing that could be used as the evidence was the presence of two fictitious creatures that were fighting. The claimant failed to demonstrate numerous similarities between these scripts, and he was urged to pay compensation to the film studio.
In order to avoid being accused of copyright infringement, American scriptwriters and songwriters can use preliminary permission. The case of Lin Manuel Miranda (the author of Hamilton) indicates that scriptwriters can use the information retrieved from other sources as parts of their work and avoid copyright infringement liability. The creator of Hamilton states that he has used the works by Ron Chernow, Joseph Ellis, and other authors, seeing them as sources of inspiration (Davis 93). Obtaining preliminary permission, the author creates something new with the help of others’ works, and this is why his scripts are still unique. This approach to work, as the absence of lawsuits against this person indicates, should be noted by numerous Hollywood filmmakers. Despite that, the misuse of online content often becomes the cause of copyright infringement cases all over the world (Podlas 1).
In conclusion, copyright infringement cases in the motion picture industry in the United States are extremely different in terms of the goals and intentions of claimants. On the one hand, there are people who feel that their ideas are misused by other producers, scriptwriters, or actors. In this case, the opportunity to sue under the copyright law of the United States acts as an important chance to minimize financial losses and prevent similar cases in the future. On the other hand, accusing people or their projects of copyright infringement, some claimants fulfil their personal goals and get an opportunity to come close to success. In fact, common people who have failed to become famous scriptwriters or film directors can use copyright scandals as a chance to win fame and attract the attention of the global community to their new projects.
Bahar, Rikki. “The Copyright Infringement Test: A New Approach to Literary Misappropriation in Film.” Pace Intellectual Property, Sports & Entertainment Law Forum, vol. 2, no. 4, 2014, pp. 529-548.
Davis, Deidre. “Living to See His Glory Days: Why Hamilton’s Lin Manuel Miranda is Not Liable for Copyright Infringement, But Other Writers and Composers Are.” The John Marshall Review of Intellectual Property Law, vol. 17, no. 1, 2017, pp. 92-108.
Podlas, Kimberlianne. “Linking to Liability: When Linking to Leaked Movies, Scripts, and Television Shows Is Copyright Infringement.” Harvard Journal of Sports & Entertainment Law, vol. 6, 2015, p. 1-58.
Verevis, Constantine. “Blockbuster Remakes.” Akademisk Kvarter, vol. 7, 2013, pp. 263-382.
Decherney, Peter. “One Law to Rule Them All.” Hollywood and the Law, edited by Paul McDonald et al., Palgrave, 2015, pp. 23-42.
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Greene, Kevin. “Idea Theft: Frivolous Copyright-Lite Claims, or Hollywood Business Model?” Hastings Science and Technology Law Journal, vol. 7, no. 2, 2015, pp. 119-142.