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Old March 21st, 2011, 11:29 AM   #1
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Avoiding coincidences or plot overlaps

I came up with a pretty good storyline suitable for a short. I've don't recall ever having seen or read anything similar. It could be done as a lo/no, for the festival circuit.

The plot seems kind of obvious. I could Google the plot, but that seems like it could be futile, trying to search for a concept, amongst all of the manuscripts, books and films out there.

Is there a research agency or database that specifically looks for plot similarities? I did a quick search and anything close seems to be geared towards research and/or academic papers.

I'm sure there are entertainment legal firms that deal with such matters, but that would likely be cost prohibitive.

So if I were to proceed, should I document due diligence, get some E&O and hope for the best?

Thanks!

Last edited by Jason Sovey; March 21st, 2011 at 12:56 PM.
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Old March 21st, 2011, 04:22 PM   #2
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Re: Avoiding coincidences or accusations of plagiarism

I'm not a lawyer in the least, but I don't think you can get in trouble even if your story is very similar to anything out there.

I mean, are you kidding? "No Strings Attached" and the upcoming "Friends with Benefits" are pretty much the exact same story! And it's happened about a million times in the last few years. . .once something becomes successful, twenty clones of that something come out.

I think where you get in trouble is when it become question of "okay, did this guy read this other guy's script/see his movie and just steal and slightly alter an idea?" For instance, let's say some guy makes a movie with a quirky character named Mouse who likes to suction his nipples with a vacuum cleaner. Then you make a movie with a guy name Rat who likes to run a non-electric sweeper over HIS nipples. Now you're in trouble, maybe.

Then again, sometimes stuff just happens.

True story: I made a short movie, written over the course of 2006, shot in December 2006, finally done in late 2007. It involves a character named Strawberry Malaise, who carries around a lunchbox. In late 2007, around this time, a NEW Simpsons episode airs, where a new comic book store has opened up. The store's owner's girlfriend introduces herself to a group of kids by saying "Hi, my name's Strawberry. I carry a lunchbox for a purse".

ARE YOU F@#@#@#*@**@* kidding me????????
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Old March 22nd, 2011, 04:25 AM   #3
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Re: Avoiding coincidences or plot overlaps

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jason Sovey View Post
I came up with a pretty good storyline suitable for a short. I've don't recall ever having seen or read anything similar. It could be done as a lo/no, for the festival circuit.

The plot seems kind of obvious. I could Google the plot, but that seems like it could be futile, trying to search for a concept, amongst all of the manuscripts, books and films out there.

Is there a research agency or database that specifically looks for plot similarities? I did a quick search and anything close seems to be geared towards research and/or academic papers.

I'm sure there are entertainment legal firms that deal with such matters, but that would likely be cost prohibitive.

So if I were to proceed, should I document due diligence, get some E&O and hope for the best?

Thanks!
Ideas are not copyrightable, only specific tangible expressions of the ideas. So if you want to make a movie about a poor boy and a rich girl falling in love on a big boat that sinks after hitting an iceberg, there's nothing to stop you. Just don't copy scenes from the original "Titanic" verbatim.
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Old March 22nd, 2011, 01:35 PM   #4
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Re: Avoiding coincidences or accusations of plagiarism

You've received good advice so far. What I've learned from working on projects that involve patents is to keep everything you've committed to paper (or computer files) with dates. If you have a rough draft from two years ago, don't pitch it, put it in a file. If anyone claims you copied something, you can produce the original drafts.

But yeah - the main thing you need to know is that mere ideas are rarely unique and not copyrightable.
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Old March 25th, 2011, 09:09 AM   #5
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Re: Avoiding coincidences or accusations of plagiarism

Regardless of your idea, you have a 1/36 chance of replicating a previous film plot... so don't sweat it.
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Old March 28th, 2011, 10:47 PM   #6
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Re: Avoiding coincidences or accusations of plagiarism

One of my favorite double-ups is The Three Amigos and Galaxy Quest. They're virtually identical in the major story points! I suppose that may be part of the reason I love them both.

Really there are some archetypal story lines that we've seen time and again (Romeo & Juliet, The Fantasticks, West Side Story for one example, Hamlet and The Lion King for another.) that work well because they continue to resonate with audiences. Good stories will always be worth telling, no matter how they're dressed up.
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Old March 28th, 2011, 11:04 PM   #7
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Re: Avoiding coincidences or accusations of plagiarism

Aren't there really only 7 plots in the world that every story boils down to or something?
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Old May 5th, 2011, 10:31 AM   #8
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Re: Avoiding coincidences or accusations of plagiarism

Like a previous poster, I always believed that ideas aren't copyrightable but I believe a recent case put that certainty into some different context.

What happened was that Art Buchwald a well-known writer produced an eight or ten page development which he presented to Paramount which rejected it.

Some time later the same studio produced a Eddie Murphy's "Coming to America" which to all intents and purposes Art Buchwald claimed was the same story as the original proposal.

Buchwald sued and the courts held that although the work he'd presented was not a script in the normal sense of the word, the ten page development was more than an idea and he won.

My apologies to those who read this posting before I did some internet searching and was able to give the names of those involved.

Last edited by Philip Howells; May 6th, 2011 at 04:59 AM. Reason: Discovery of the name of parties involved.
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Old May 10th, 2011, 10:55 AM   #9
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Re: Avoiding coincidences or accusations of plagiarism

there is no such thing as an original idea. don't worry.
just write your story, mail it to yourself as registered mail, make sure the postal stamp is legible and keep the envelope unopened in a safe place.
that way you can always prove that you had the idea first... (if it comes to that)
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Old May 10th, 2011, 12:01 PM   #10
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Re: Avoiding coincidences or accusations of plagiarism

I've heard that is not valid. Maybe that's a USA thing though.
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Old May 10th, 2011, 02:07 PM   #11
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Re: Avoiding coincidences or accusations of plagiarism

That's a long standing urban legend. It's been around as long as the postal service.

Think about it, I could mail myself a bunch of unsealed, empty envelopes and put what ever I want in them at a later date - and have instant "proof" that I wrote anything at any time.
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Old May 13th, 2011, 09:41 AM   #12
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Re: Avoiding coincidences or accusations of plagiarism

Quote:
Originally Posted by Philip Howells View Post
Like a previous poster, I always believed that ideas aren't copyrightable but I believe a recent case put that certainty into some different context.

What happened was that Art Buchwald a well-known writer produced an eight or ten page development which he presented to Paramount which rejected it.

Some time later the same studio produced a Eddie Murphy's "Coming to America" which to all intents and purposes Art Buchwald claimed was the same story as the original proposal.
That's because the studio copied the execution (the treatment), not just the idea.

There is an equally famous case here in Quebec about a writer animator who pitched a show to a local prodco that subsequently produced something identical without giving him a cent. He won in court after a lengthy battle, but they're appealing.


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Old May 17th, 2011, 08:53 AM   #13
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Re: Avoiding coincidences or accusations of plagiarism

I'm sorry Jacques, your note makes it sound as though "treatments" are copyrightable which is not the case.

Buchwald won because the court considered that the development in that case was sufficient. Not everyone who's done a treatment or development might have the financial ability to risk was Buchwald risked.
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Old May 17th, 2011, 09:33 AM   #14
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Re: Avoiding coincidences or accusations of plagiarism

Quote:
Originally Posted by Philip Howells View Post
I'm sorry Jacques, your note makes it sound as though "treatments" are copyrightable which is not the case. Buchwald won because the court considered that the development in that case was sufficient.
That was almost precisely what I was saying: the studio copied the execution of an idea. I didn't mention copyrighting a treatment. The treatment was sufficiently developed to establish a case for plagiarism.

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