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The Shape of Water

(12 posts)

  1. Ron

  2. Marian

    Plagiarism lawsuit

    The author thought of the basic idea when he was a teenager and had seen Black Lagoon and found the monster very sympathetic. Since it was the same time as the play, but he and the director deny having seen or heard of the play, I think it's possible one or both saw a review of the play or a reference to it. One of those cases where the idea sticks in your mind while the source is forgotten. It's an interesting question as to where you draw the line on plagiarism.

    Posted 3 months ago #
  3. geoffhart1962

    As my memory systems age, and become progressively less reliable, the prospect of inadvertent plagiarism used to scare the crap out of me. I console myself with the notion that (i) my memory is too terrible to remember whole passages and (ii) that plagiarism refers only to the actual form and content, not the idea. Of course, there's a huge grey area about how closely you can emulate someone else's work before you are contributing nothing new of your own. Then it comes down to battling lawyers.

    If we could be sued for implementing someone else's idea in our own way, we'd have only about 1% of the fiction we have today, and would lose great combats of ideas (e.g., Heinlein's Starship Troopers vs. Haldeman's Forever War) that have advanced our field.

    Posted 3 months ago #
  4. Steve R.

    Somewhere deeply buried in my life stream, I had heard that there where only four basic story-lines. As part of the discussion on that concept, I had heard that subsequent stories based on the "original" stories in each story-line could constitute a form of "stealing" (plagiarism). But, if this approach had been taken seriously, as Geoff notes: "... we'd have only about 1% of the fiction we have today ... ". Fortunately, that concept (subsequent stories being considered theft) has not taken root.

    Nevertheless, I did a quickie internet search. Surprisingly, my random selection involved a story referencing Kurt Vonnegut. Evidently, he had prepared a thesis (that was rejected) on how many basic story-lines potentially existed (see the bottom of this post for the link). This was recently followed-up and reported on by The Guardian (July 13, 2016).

    "A new academic study has done exactly this, and gives us yet another reason to wish the great man were still with us to share his thoughts on it (and perhaps resubmit that thesis). Researchers from the University of Vermont’s Computational Story Lab fed 1,737 stories from Project Gutenberg – all English-language texts, all fiction – through a program that analysed their language for its emotional content.

    Putting – maybe – an end to a debate that has been ongoing for millennia, the researchers found there are “six core trajectories which form the building blocks of complex narratives”. These are: “rags to riches” (a story that follows a rise in happiness), “tragedy”, or “riches to rags” (one that follows a fall in happiness), “man in a hole” (fall–rise), “Icarus” (rise–fall), “Cinderella” (rise–fall–rise), and “Oedipus” (fall–rise–fall). The most successful – here defined as the most downloaded – types of story, they find, are Cinderella, Oedipus, two sequential man in a hole arcs, and Cinderella with a tragic ending."

    The Guardian story: "Three, six or 36: how many basic plots are there in all stories ever written?".

    Posted 3 months ago #
  5. Dr. Caligari

    When I'm not reading science fiction I sometimes practice law, and I remember being taught in law school that the classic definition of plagiarism vs. fair use comes from a 1930 case about whether the movie "The Cohens and the Kellys" infringed the copyright of the play "Abie's Irish Rose":
    " her copyright did not cover everything that might be drawn from her play; its content went to some extent into the public domain. We have to decide how much, and while we are as aware as any one that the line, wherever it is drawn, will seem arbitrary, that is no excuse for not drawing it; it is a question such as courts must answer in nearly all cases. Whatever may be the difficulties a priori, we have no question on which side of the line this case falls. A comedy based upon conflicts between Irish and Jews, into which the marriage of their children enters, is no more susceptible of copyright than the outline of Romeo and Juliet."

    Posted 3 months ago #
  6. Marian

    Interesting. However, here's the gist of the plagiarism complaint against The Shape of Water (from the article I posted a link to: "tells the story of a lonely janitorial cleaning woman who works the graveyard shift at a scientific laboratory facility that performs animal experiments for military use. She becomes fascinated by a fantastic intelligent aquatic creature, held captive in a glass tank. she forms a deep, loving bond with the creature, discovering that it can communicate—but chooses to do so only with her. When she learns that the authorities plan to kill the creature, in the name of scientific progress, she hatches a plan to liberate the creature in a rolling laundry cart and release it at a dock that feeds into the ocean, where it will finally be free."

    Posted 3 months ago #
  7. Dr. Caligari

    The allegations of a Complaint often don't match up with the actual evidence. But if the details are that close-- and they're not buried in a much longer narrative that is totally dissimilar from the movie-- then it sounds like a more serious plagiarism complaint (assuming of course that Del Toro or his co-author had access to the play-- an essential element of a copyright infringement claim).

    Posted 3 months ago #
  8. Marian

    Legally, why does it have to be one of them had read the play? According to the article, it was made into a tv show. I'm inclined to exonerate DelToro because he simply thought the idea was great when it was pitched to him by the writer who said it came to him when he was fifteen. The complaint is that that year was when the play (and then the movie of it) came out. So a teenaged boy who was thinking sympathetically about the Creature from the Black Lagoon read or heard a review of the play/show that gave the basic plot. Or a buddy could have described the great show he watched last night on tv. The article also said the play author had previously won the Pulitzer Prize so logically the play would have gotten a lot of buzz "Is it as good as his previous work?" Nowadays, of course we have email/twitter/ etc. I'm just rambling but Dr. Caligari, aren't we entering a wholly new legal area. If someone didn't read the work or watch it but heard it discussed in detail, is it plagiarism? I don't know but I think the advent of radio/tv and now social media means this will become much more common and a writer could honestly say they didn't remember hearing about it because so much information is pouring at us. Are we in new legal territory?

    Posted 3 months ago #
  9. Dr. Caligari

    The two elements of a copyright infringement claim are (1) substantial similarity of the defendant's work to non-public domain elements of the plaintiff's work and (2) access by the defendant to the plaintiff's work. You are correct that "access" may be easier to prove post-internet.

    In this case, the plaintiff's list of similarities neglects to point out that his "aquatic creature" was a dolphin, not a black lagoon monster.

    Posted 3 months ago #
  10. Steve R.

    Below is the link to a public letter (April 2008) that Orson Scott Card sent to J.K. Rowling asserting that she went overboard in suing a fan-based creation of a Harry Potter Lexicon guidebook. Orson Scott Card letter link.

    What is unfortunate about Rowling's lawsuit is that an author is attacking her fan base. Not a good public relations action. Your readers are the source of your income. Consequently an author needs to emotionally connect with their fan-base. Card noted, an author shouldn't ".. punish other people whose creativity might have been inspired by something I wrote.".

    Posted 3 months ago #
  11. Dr. Caligari

    'Shape Of Water' Makers Deny Ripping Off Pulitzer Playwright
    By Dorothy Atkins

    Law360 (May 8, 2018, 2:09 PM EDT) -- "The Shape of Water" director Guillermo del Toro and others involved in making the Oscar-winning film urged a California federal judge to toss a copyright suit filed by the son of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paul Zindel, arguing Monday that the hit flick has no substantial similarities to Zindel's play.

    In a motion to dismiss, Del Toro, producer Daniel Kraus, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp. and its affiliates argued that Zindel’s play “Let Me Hear You Whisper” has no legally cognizable similarities to the film. The play is a “short, straightforward,” three-person play about the evils of animal experimentation, while the film is a “sweeping, and decidedly adult,” blend of genres, according to the filmmakers.

    They argued, “In every relevant measure, the works are entirely different."

    The dismissal bid comes in a suit that David Zindel launched in February claiming the filmmakers ripped off his father’s two-act play to make the hit movie, which won four Oscars this year, including best picture and best director. The suit also alleges that MacMillan Publishing Group LLC’s recently released novel “The Shape of Water” infringes the play's copyright.

    Paul Zindel, who died in 2003, won the Pulitzer for drama in 1971 for "The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds." He penned “Let Me Hear You Whisper” in 1969, and the play was published a year later in a classroom magazine for students called the Scholastic Voice. The suit claims “Let Me Hear You Whisper" and "The Shape of Water" both follow the story of a lonely janitor at a secret government laboratory during the Cold War who develops a loving relationship with an intelligent sea creature.

    But on Monday the filmmakers asked the court to toss the suit with prejudice. They argued that any similarity between the works arises out of the nonprotectable idea of a relationship between a human and an animal — or in the film’s case, a mythical humanoid creature — that scientists wish to kill or to study and experiment on. That idea has been used in a number of other popular feature films, including "E.T.," "Free Willy" and "Splash!," the filmmakers said.

    “As a matter of law, such alleged similarities in basic plot ideas or concepts cannot give rise to an infringement claim, and review of the works reveals that their respective treatments of this unprotectable concept is totally dissimilar,” the motion stated.

    The filmmakers also argued that the itemized list of alleged similarities that David Zindel submitted with his complaint is “embarrassingly inaccurate, misleading” and based on “gross misrepresentations.” The filmmakers added that the Ninth Circuit has repeatedly held that such lists are inherently unreliable and cannot support an infringement claim.

    While asserting that the case should be tossed based on the argument that the works have no substantial similarities, the filmmakers also emphasized that they never had access to a recently copyrighted, all-female, 1973 version of the play or that this version was widely disseminated.

    “Defendants strongly deny that Mr. del Toro, his co-writer Vanessa Taylor, defendant Daniel Kraus, or anyone involved in writing the film or developing its story ever saw, read, or even heard of the play prior to plaintiff asserting his claim,” the filmmakers said in a footnote.

    MacMillan filed its own motion to dismiss the suit Monday, echoing many of the arguments made by Fox, del Toro and Kraus. MacMillan noted that David Zindel sued two weeks before the book was published on March 6. Had he read the book, MacMillan said, he would have realized that there are no substantial similarities between his father’s seven-page play and MacMillan’s 314-page novel.

    A hearing on the motions is set for June 25.

    Counsel for MacMillan declined to comment Tuesday.

    Counsel for Zindel and the other defendants did not immediately respond Tuesday to requests for comment.

    Zindel is represented by Marc Toberoff and Douglas Fretty of Toberoff & Associates PC.

    Fox and its affiliates, del Toro, and Kraus are represented by Edward K. Lee, Jonathan Zavin and Jonathan Neil Strauss of Loeb & Loeb LLP. MacMillan is represented by Kelli L. Sager, Eric M. Stahl and Cydney Swofford Freeman of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP.

    The case is Zindel v. Fox Searchlight Pictures Inc. et al., case number 2:18-cv-01435, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

    --Additional reporting by Kat Greene. Editing by Edrienne Su.

    Posted 1 month ago #
  12. SHamm

    The 1969 PBS adaptation of Let Me Hear You Whisper, featuring what appears to be an inflatable pool toy as the dolphin, is available for viewing on YouTube in four segments of under twenty minutes each.

    Posted 1 month ago #

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