It seems that all too often that when a movie makes it big, someone comes out of the woodwork to say: “Hey, that’s my idea!”, and then march in the lawyers. But all too often, authors get confused as to what can actually receive copyright protection. That may be happening once again. Sachin Gadhand Jonathan Sender claim that Spike Jonze ripped off their screenplay, originally titled Belv, and turned it into the Oscar nominated movie Her. And so, the two New York writers are suing Jonze for copyright infringement.
Belv was written and submitted to Creative Artist Agency (“CAA”) back in 2011, which is the same agency that represents Jonze. CAA sent back the script claiming that they do not accept unsolicited screenplays but plaintiffs claim Jonze used the script anyway.
According to tech dirt, The legal papers stated, “In both ‘Her’ and ‘Belv’ the main character carries around the love interest in his front shirt pocket.” It continued, “Both ‘Her’ and “Belv’ examine the human psyche through interactions between the character and the computer.” In addition to the two examples, the document also cited, “The main character in ‘Her’ is heartbroken after a failed relationship and seek solace in a computer. In ‘Belv’ a cell phone comes to life after a microwave mishap and becomes a witty wing man for dating.”
Ideas cannot be copyrighted, only the expression of an idea.
The potential problem here is that ideas cannot be copyrighted, only the expression of an idea. This is particularly relevant to writers. Think about Harry Potter. The novels have copyright protection in the arrangement of words, or characters names and personalities. But the idea of a boy wizard who has magical adventures while attending wizarding school is not protected.
So let’s look at some of these points. First, the idea of a lonely man falling in love with a computer is just an idea. But what about the main character carrying around a computer in his shirt pocket? Where else would it go? The computer is his love interest after all. I am not sure shoving Her into his back pocket would win him any relationship points.
Examining the human psyche through interactions with a computer? That plot idea has been a mainstay of science fiction for the last 70 years; Forbidden Planet (1956), 2001 a Space Odyssey (1968), Short Circuit (1986), Battlestar Galactica (2004), and a dozen books by Issac Asimov, Robert Heinlein or Ray Bradbury. It’s been done.
Seeking solace in a computer? In Her, the story has the main character in a heartbreaking relationship with the computer. In Belv, it’s more of a buddy movie. Not exactly a copy.
My client’s are often concerned about their work being stolen, or about being sued because their style may be similar to someone else’s. What I tell them is that the more original their work is, the less likely people will sue. But even with originality, once people see $$$$$$, receiving a lawsuit for copyright infringement wouldn’t be too surprising.
According to Celebrity Cafe, Jonze claims he had the idea of Her 10 years ago and over that time slowly created the futuristic look of Los Angeles and developing the intimate relationship between a man and a computer. If true, that calendar showing the calendar of his creative process and originality will go a long way in having this case dismissed.