Two People Can Have The Same Idea… It's Not Necessarily 'Theft', Infringement Or Plagiarism

from the creativity-knows-no-bounds dept

Someone who prefers to remain anonymous alerts us to the fact that some Icelandic movie producers are apparently furious and considering a lawsuit because they claim an episode of the TV show Heroes “stole” a scene (yes, just a scene) from a movie they produced. The link above has clips of both scenes, and there’s simply no case at all here should they sue (and hopefully they won’t). You see various lawsuits all the time with people claiming they came up with some generic concept for a TV show or movie, but it never sticks. Lots of people have the same basic ideas. Copyright infringement, on the other hand, requires actual copying of the specific content. Not just the general idea. Yet, if you watch these two clips, they’re only loosely similar. They both involve a blonde-haired woman (who is clearly not a comic book fan), applying for a job in a comic book shop. That’s about where the similarities end.

But, once again, this is indicative of the culture that we’ve created in this world with over-aggressive expansion of intellectual property laws, where people really do think that ideas are ownable, and as long as they were “first” no one else can possibly have a similar idea.

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Comments on “Two People Can Have The Same Idea… It's Not Necessarily 'Theft', Infringement Or Plagiarism”

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Weird Harold (user link) says:

It would depend on if anyone involved with Heroes had seen that clip or movie before. Did they have the same idea, or were they inspired by the clip? Maybe they thought nobody from Iceland would notice.

I think there isn’t enough information to draw such sweeping conclusions about “over-aggressive expansion of intellectual property laws”. But hey, it wouldn’t make for a good blog if you didn’t.

Ima Fish (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It would depend on if anyone involved with Heroes had seen that clip or movie before.

Actually, no it would not. It’s a simple fact that under the law you cannot copyright the idea of a blonde who doesn’t like comic books but who decides to work at a comic book store anyway.

Any copyright the Icelandic movie has would be in the actual dialog, not in the general idea.

As I’ve stated here before, the idea of a TV show about an innocent person on the run from the law who helps people each and every week, only to escape in the nick of time to start off in a new town the next week, has been done numerous times.

The Fugitive (TV show), the Hulk (70s TV show), Renegade, Kung Fu, The Pretender, just to name a few.

Despite all of these shows using the same basic idea, i.e., the same basic plot, absolutely no one “owns” the idea or the plot.

I think there isn’t enough information to draw such sweeping conclusions about “over-aggressive expansion of intellectual property laws

And yet you’re a person who actually thinks that a blonde who doesn’t like comic books who applies to work in a comic store can somehow be owned. Your erroneous beliefs in how copyright works are “over aggressive” and would expand copyright and other IP laws. So, once again, people like you only prove Mike correct.

R. Miles says:

Re: Re:

It would depend on if anyone involved with Heroes had seen that clip or movie before.
The hell it would, you idiot!

If this were the case, nothing new would ever be produced again. Hell, even reading the Harry Potter series, I definitely saw references to ideas already used.

I recently watched a show which resembled my experience to the letter. Should I take offense they used my experience in this show?

I enjoy your posts, Harold, if nothing more than to help show your ignorance.

Weird Harold (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

It’s not ignorance. It’s just not agreeing with Mike’s view of the universe, which most of his readers agree with.

You should learn: chatting with people you agree with teaches you nothing. That’s why the idiots that listen to Rush Limbaugh are called “dittoheads” because they have nothing new to add.

The infamous Joe says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

It’s not the fact that you disagree, it’s the fact that the basis of your disagreement (and counter arguments) are not based in reality, but instead on figments of your imagination, or maybe just twisted truthiness.

To make it worse, when you’re corrected, you still cling to your false ideas.

In essence, you are the very definition of a troll, unless you really believe the crap you’re typing is true, and then you’re somehwere between a sheep and a shill.

Nothing personal, mind you, I just know what you show us in your posts.

Have a wicked decent day.

Weird Harold (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

There are many cases of infringement by using a setting, a scene, a set of characters, etc. Adam Sandler is currently facing one for his movie about the Israeli hair dresser secret agent. There are plenty more going back over years, and the courts have very often sided with the original creators. More often than not, the cases are won because the infringer saw a script, a treatment, or a visual rendition of the idea, and then went on to use that as a basis of their own product.

You may not LIKE it, but that is different than reality.

ChrisB (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

If they are based on a setting or characters, the “original creator” always loses. For example, Nancy Stouffer lost against J.K. (“Larry Potter”), Rebecca Eckler lost against Judd Apatow (“Knocked Up”), and White Wolf lost against Sony (“Underworld”). Really, the only way to win an infringement case is to have complete pieces of dialog lifted, or have hundreds of similar plot points.

mobiGeek says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

Please cite some examples of “a setting, a scene, a set of characters, etc.”.

In the Sandler case, which is just starting, the plaintiff claims that the entire premise of the movie was stolen from his copyrighted work, one that he had pitched to the studios himself.

Different than this wild claim you have that “plenty” of cases have the courts siding with plaintiffs because a setting was re-used.

hegemon13 says:

Re: Re:

Even if they were inspired by the clip, it DOESN’T MATTER. You can’t copyright the concept, only the presentation. If they actually copied large sections of dialog, or framed the scene, shot-for-shot the same, that could be plagiarism. Simply having a scene with the same basic idea is not copyright infringement, EVEN if they admit to have been inspired by the other scene. How many artists/musicians/filmakers do you know of who say they have no inspirations, no muses? NONE! Everyone in the creative arts has their particular favorites who have a large impact on their own work, and most will happily tell you you those inspirational folks are. That’s how art works.

Weird Harold (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:

In a court of law, their being aware or not aware of the Icelandic movie would be a big start to finding infringement or not. If none of them had seen it, then the chance of intentional infringement is zero. So it really is key.

What would happen if one of the writers came into a script meeting with the DVD, and said “you guys have to see this” and they decide to pretty much do the same scene?

Plus, this isn’t “two guys walk into a bar…”, it is very specific set of circumstances.

“hotter looking girl walks into a comic book store that is advertising a job in the window. There are many geeks in the place that are interested in her. The person she talks to tries to hit on her and also lectures and tests her about her knowledge. In the end she doesn’t really want the job, but with all the geeks drooling on her and the store getting busy, she gets hired anyway”.

Now, there are variations on the theme, but that is pretty much the scene (from a quick view of each clip). Inspired by and copied from are sometimes too close to tell apart.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Harold, just STFU. You clearly don’t have even the vaguest concept here. There is no infringement, as nothing about the setup can be copyrighted, plain and simple. It doesn’t matter how you twist the facts, it doesn’t matter whether the supposed “infringers” have ever seen the original. YOU CAN’T COPYRIGHT THE CONCEPT. Stop being such an uninformed asshole.

Weird Harold (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Actually, you can copyright the concept (which is why there are no CSI shows on NBC, example).

You cannot claim infringement of a general nature, it has to be very specific – copying all of the dialog would be a slam dunk. This case isn’t a slam dunk, but it isn’t exactly hard to find some very clear similarities.

The question of similarities is a matter for the courts, I guess. I can see where they might see similarities, and I can see where there are differences. What it takes to constitute an infringement is up to the courts. My entire point on post 1 is that it is too easy to load this up on the “too much copyright”, without considering all the information. I am sure that more information would change some people’s views of the situation.

hegemon13 says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

“Actually, you can copyright the concept (which is why there are no CSI shows on NBC, example).”

WHAT??? You absolutely CAN NOT copyright the concept of a CSI show. There are procedural crime shows all over all the networks. NBCs bread and butter happens to be Law and Order rather than CSI, but there is absolutely NOTHING stopping them from starting their own CSI show. They just can’t call it CSI because of something called trademark (NOT copyright). They could even use a similar or nearly identical plotline as long as they use their own dialog, characters, and presentation.

Ugh, why do I bother. You, sir, are truly, unapologetically clueless.

Weird Harold (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

Sorry, I guess I didn’t explain it properly: There is no SPECIFIC CSI on NBC because they couldn’t duplicate the idea without infringing. They can have other procedural crime shows, even other crime investigation shows, but there is a point (and I am not an expert in the field to tell you when) that you cross the line from “something like” to “too much like”. That is why you might see 2 or 3 hospital dramas but they aren’t the SAME hospital drama.

Put it another way, if CSI Miami was made by another group on another network, it would likely bring the lawyers out.

It’s just how things are, and the networks carefully avoid stepping on each other to avoid having their lawyers get rich.

Chronno S. Trigger says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Re:

That’s what hegemon13 said. Law and order, bones… Hell, Stargate Atlantis did a CSI like episode. One cannot create a show called “CSI Pittsburgh” because “CSI” is a trademarked name of a show. One can create a show called “Crime Lab Pittsburgh” and still have it the same damn thing.

Easily Amused says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

If that’s true, I guess Fox should be expecting a lawsuit for ‘Bones’? Of course not.

I watched both clips, and there really isn’t enough similarity to even imply that the Heroes writers had ever seen Astropia. It is the same concept that has been used many times over: Take a hot girl and make her work in an office/store filled with geeks/nerds/whatever.

In fact, I remember a feud about five years ago between two webcomic authors who used an almost identical setup as these clips for the basis of their artwork (with one substituting a video game store for the comic store).
These film producers need to chill out about their ‘property’, unless this is just trying to generate awareness for their film.

It is also a pretty obvious plot line for the Heroes writers to take. Picture the story meeting – they decide that one of their comic book heroes who happens to be an attractive blonde needs to get a job. If all of the writers start brainstorming what kind of job, how long do you think it would take for someone to suggest that it would be ironically appropriate and make for good banter if she worked in a comic shop? They have dealt with comic books directly on the show several times in the last few seasons already, it isn’t a big leap.

Weird Harold (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

The thing is, if that story meeting you suggest is the case, then there is likely no issue. But if they were sitting around watching the clip from the movie, example, then the story is very different.

The magic is in between “inspired from” and “lifted almost intact from”. That is for the courts to decide. Again, my only point is that it is awfully early in this particular process to be slamming the crap out the copyright laws with so little knowledge as to circumstances. It’s a rush to judgement, only becuase that judgement is in support of the local cause.

Killer_Tofu (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

Harold, I will say it again.
The fact that this discussion has gone on this long, and that there is a lawsuit of the idea for a single scene, in and of itself, shows that copyright laws absolutely deserve to be bashed.
They are obviously too big, wide, and strong if somebody can sue over something so simple and done differently.

Nelson Cruz says:

Unlike Weird Harold, I don’t think it matters whether “if anyone involved with Heroes had seen that clip or movie before”. Ideas are not covered by copyright PERIOD. They took a basic idea from the Astropia movie, and reapplied it in their own “universe” (and with totally different dramatic undertones). If this is plagiarism, then writers are constantly plagiarizing each other. Think of crime drama TV shows for example! Or crime novels (the butler did it, for example).

Plus, the Astropia movie is constructed around geek culture.
It boroughs greatly from things like dungeons and dragons and The Matrix. They are complaining Heroes “stole” one of their ideas, when they themselves “stole” many others. Scenes like these are often considered an homage, a tip of the hat, from one creator to another, not plagiarism. After all, one copies the ideas one likes. 🙂

I’m starting to wonder if this isn’t a publicity/marketing stunt to make the Astropia movie more widely known in the US.

Ken says:

I have an idea..

.. My idea is to get away for the weekend to relax. I’m copyrighting it, AND patenting it, AND I’m trademarking the phrase Getaway Weekend.

If I hear of anyone else getting away for the weekend, I’m going to sue for patent infringement. If I hear anyone talking about it or I see a movie where someone gets away for the weekend, I’ll sue for copyright infringement. If I hear of anyone using the words getaway and weekend together, I’ll sue for trademark infringement.

Anonymous Coward says:

Blades of Glory

Back in the spring of 2000 my friends and I were all into making movies, and short films. One of these short films we made was about males doubles figure skating. Did we sue the writers or the studio that produced Blades of Glory, no, did we make jokes about suing, yes. Mostly we were beating ourselves up for not being the ones to get the movie made. Which if we had been pursuing that path and someone actually stole our idea then that would be another story, but no one really even saw our films. Today everyone puts things on youtube, at some point they are going to make a move from some idea they received from youtube. So what I am trying to say is, lets stop being idiots people. Stop suing to try and get easy money. Stop claiming to own ideas that are, or should be obvious to everyone. Innovation should be encouraged, not stifled by the current suing rampage that the legal system has allowed.

Chronno S. Trigger says:

Re: Astropia copied from Star Wars

The more I think about it, the more parallels I see between Harry Potter and Star Wars.

Think about it, A boy with magical abilities is rushed off to live with his aunt and uncle, by an old man with the same magical abilities, after his parents are killed. Boy eventually figures out he has the magical abilities and goes off to be trained. Due to an evil force with the same magical abilities, boy loses his mentor and eventually stops his training. Boy then goes of to fight the main evil and wins. Everyone lives happily ever after.

If Weird Harold is correct and Heroes is ripping off this movie than Harry potter is ripping off Star Wars even more.

Anonymous Coward says:

“hotter looking girl walks into a comic book store that is advertising a job in the window. There are many geeks in the place that are interested in her. The person she talks to tries to hit on her and also lectures and tests her about her knowledge. In the end she doesn’t really want the job, but with all the geeks drooling on her and the store getting busy, she gets hired anyway”.

Which part of this makes it different than “two guys walk into a bar”? The fact that she is blonde? Or hot? Maybe the fact that geeks work at the comic book store…that must be it.

You have got to be the dumbest person that posts here. That’s impressive considering posters like angry dude come here, but I think he just loves to troll him some interwebs.

Killer_Tofu (profile) says:

Silly Harold

While I was considering trying to set Harold a little straight, it seems many others have already beat me to the punch. There is only one point I can see right now to add more to the discussion. Harold said:
My entire point on post 1 is that it is too easy to load this up on the “too much copyright”, without considering all the information. I am sure that more information would change some people’s views of the situation.
Just the fact that we are discussing with you, whether the idea of a hot girl applying to a store which she has no knowledge of and getting the job because guys think she is hot proves that there is indeed too much copyright. Its a very simple idea that has been demonstrated in real life many many times over. There is a hot girl at the local game stop here who knows nothing about video games. So the guy in Iceland clearly does NOT have a new idea.
Your coming here to say that it could possibly, even if stretched, be copyright infringement proves our point that there is too much copyright. Most normal people would laugh it off or say thanks for the creative nod. The unimaginative and greedy who think ideas can be owned would rather sue.

greg says:

Funny that over the weekend I read an old copy of The New Yorker I had lying around while I was out of the country last year:
Essentially, Malcolm Gladwell makes the case for the ubiquity of simultaneous, independent invention.

Although looking at some of the cartoons in that May 2008 issue dated it (pre-economic collapse) extensively — like the one where the big screen TV alerts you that your neighbors just bought a bigger screen TV.

Anonymous12 says:

@Wierd Harold: By your own admission, you’re not an expert. So you are just spouting off on your own little uninformed opinion. Let me give you a good idea. You can use it if you want:

It’s about a guy, who is completely clueless, but then pretends otherwise because he likes stirring the pot, to get attention. The name of the show would be “Strange Harry”. In the end no one listens to Harry, and he’s forced to shut the hell up. What do you think? Like, dislike? Go, no go? Just checking…

Weird Harold (user link) says:

Re: Re:

If you took the time to write such a detailed insult, I would have to say that you are paying attention to what I write. I know not all of my opinions are appreciated here mostly because I am not visiting the right koolaid stand.

Asking me to “shut up” is just proof that it is easier to try to shout an unpopular opinion down than it is to consider it.

Sarssipius (user link) says:

I love your conclusion… This is quite disturbing to see how things evolved, everyone so convinced to be a “genius” or unique… The archives of life and history show us clearly that the most improbable and complex creations/ideas often occurred in several places within a short time scale… And this was long before internet and all the long distance communication media!!
And now, we are facing some greedy businessmen/lawyers/whatever you want to call them claiming that their lame ideas are unique and copyrighted!! Damn… I think I’m going to put a copyright on “THE”… From now on I’ll sue everyone who will use it!!

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