View Full Version : Question about copywrite

06-09-2004, 05:30 AM
I recently got an idea from an existing movie for another movie. The idea came from a section where the character in the film, who is a writer, describes a story that he has written. He doesn't mention any of the characters just gives an overall idea for the plot..

My question, is this copyrighted if I take the idea for a story. I know you cant copyrite an idea but I also know that you cant make a derivative of a story...is this considered a derivative.

Your expertise is greatly appreciated. Thank you for your time everyone.

06-09-2004, 07:06 AM
Hi Stulos,

I'm by no means an expert but I think that the characters, settings and other details of the screenpaly itself can make the story (or logline) significantly different. Ideas come and go but to actually write the whole screenplay, that the camel right there. Unless you're talking some kind of high concept idea (Martian lawyer takes on Barbarella for indecenty...yeah right.)

I don't think it would be considered derivative. From you question I'm assuming that the story line was given in the vaguest of descriptions. To me it's called getting inspired.

I hope I haven't confused you.


06-09-2004, 03:32 PM
Well, its sort of a high concept idea, I guess, if I understand what that means...let me give you an example of it. Im kinda nervous about giving the actual idea because Im new to this and don't know the rules. So for example:

The character in the movie, describing a book they have written, says to another character. "There is a fairy who talks to monkeys. She doesn't really want to talk to monkeys so she decides to get rid of them and lives a much more fulfilled life."

I don't know if that is considered high concept or not.

Disclaimer......that is NOT the story I am thinking about writing :)

06-09-2004, 10:10 PM
Whether or not you get busted it's pretty lame to poach ideas from other movies.

But if you did hypothetically sell the thing, and the writer you borrowed from were to see the final product, you'd be open to lawsuits. So why take the risk?

"I'm not a lawyer, but I play one in my cell block

06-10-2004, 05:46 AM
Hi Stulos,

High concept ideas usual are very specific in nature and you could be open to a lawsuit if the offended party wants to. If someone can get away with suing McDonald's over hot coffee and win anything is up for grabs.

However if the idea really appeals to you and you feel that strongly about it maybe you can find the moral meaning in that story that attracted you (love, betrayal etc.) and use in a completely different script setting or context.

Sorry. I hope I didn't burst your bubble. Best of luck.

Aliza Z

06-10-2004, 09:32 AM
That's actually a grey area in current copyright law. For example, an author published a version of Gone With the Wind told from a slave's perspective and was sued by Margaret Mitchell's estate. That judgement should give you your answer.

06-20-2004, 09:57 AM
The court decided it was a parody, so it was fine.

I agree this is a sort of gray area. When you create a copyrightable product, you have a copyright in that work, and in all adaptations, translations, and sequels.

The issue here is whether the story within the story was sufficiently substantial for copyright to inure in it. (And it, in fact, might not be copyrightable itself -- meaning, the description in the movie of the story within the story might be based on some other story that is out there and is too insubstantial for copyright.)

Without knowing what this story is, it's hard to say. If you take a movie like Holes, there's a story within the story that is obviously sufficiently substantial that, if you made a 2 hr feature film about just the story within the story, you'd be infringing the copyright of Holes.

But, consider The Player. That movie is filled with a bunch of pitches for films, and I'd be surprised if ANY of them were copyrightable. They're just not sufficiently substantial -- I doubt that even the most realized one (the Bruce Willis/Julia Roberts(?) gas chamber story) rises to the level of a copyrightable story. It was not sufficiently original. There are tons of death row stories, and the plot twist at the end doesn't make it sufficiently original (and this was the joke in the film -- that these movies are so generic).

Now, having said that, I doubt that having copyright law on your side would stop anyone from suing you if you did try to make a movie of one of those pitches.

For example, I think I read somewhere that there is a Graduate sequel in pre-production right now, and I wouldn't be surprised, if say the plot is even remotely similar to the pitch in The Players, that a release was signed, and money changed hands to make sure nobody was going to try to bring even a weak infringement claim against the producer. (But that would be stupid, because obviously, only the owner of the Graduate copyright has the right to a sequel.)