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The Shape of Water

(10 posts)

  1. Ron
    Member

  2. Marian
    Member

    Plagiarism lawsuit https://www.chicagoreader.com/Bleader/archives/2018/03/05/the-shape-of-the-shape-of-water-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 1 month ago #
  3. geoffhart1962
    Member

    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 1 month ago #
  4. Steve R.
    Member

    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 1 month ago #
  5. Dr. Caligari
    Member

    geoff,
    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 1 month ago #
  6. Marian
    Member

    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 1 month ago #
  7. Dr. Caligari
    Member

    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 1 month ago #
  8. Marian
    Member

    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 1 month ago #
  9. Dr. Caligari
    Member

    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 1 month ago #
  10. Steve R.
    Member

    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 1 month ago #

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