Juliet vs. Juliet: Did Someone Forget To Tell Hollywood You Can't Copyright An Idea?

from the romeo-vs.-romeo dept

A few years back, we wrote about the oddity of Hollywood studios often paying newspapers or others for "the rights" to a particular news story. But, there's no legal reason why you need to do so (with -- potentially -- a few exceptions for the more modern concept of publicity rights) in most cases. That's because a news story is based on facts, and you can't copyright facts. You also can't copyright an idea. Now, there are plenty of good reasons why movie studios do pay for such "rights" even if they don't need to. For example, by licensing the rights, they also get access to certain people who know the story better than others. It also can lend an air of legitimacy to the movie. However, perhaps one reason why studios license the rights to an idea or a news story is because they don't even realize they don't have to.

That's the only explanation I can come up with for the ongoing lawsuit between two movie studios over who can make and/or release a movie about people seeking advice in love by leaving letters at the supposed gravestone of Juliet Capulet (of "Romeo &" fame). Apparently, two separate studios made movies on the topic, and one is suing to stop the other from releasing the movie.

There's Summit Entertainment, who is releasing a movie called Letters to Juliet, which they made after licensing a book by the same name, that told the story of the letters left at the gravestone and of a girl who responds to one of them. But then there's EPV Enterprises, who is asking for Summit's movie to be blocked, noting that it's working on a "Juliet" movie itself, called Dear Juliet -- which it licensed from a group called Club di Giulietta, who has (in real life) been responding to those letters.

While the two movies may be based on the same premise, it sounds like they're very different in terms of the actual story. And we've certainly seen similar movies come from multiple studios around the same time (Antz/Bugs Life, Dante's Peak/Volcano, Deep Impact/Armageddon, The Illusionist/The Prestige, etc...). While Summit says it's working to settle the lawsuit before a ruling is reached, it seems likely that it should prevail in any lawsuit as well. You can't copyright facts or basic ideas -- and it doesn't look like these two movies are the same -- just built off the same idea.

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  • identicon
    RD, 9 Apr 2010 @ 11:06am


    But...copyright is NECESSARY, right? I mean, this promotes the arts, right? This encourages MORE art creation, right? This is what the constitution means when it says to promote useful arts and sciences, right? I mean, this sort of situation is the PROPER and GOOD that copyright is FOR, right? This is exactly what copyright SHOULD be for, right?

    Copyright apologists, please tell us all how these situations are BETTER WITH COPYRIGHT than without. Please. We all want to know.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    NAMELESS.ONE, 9 Apr 2010 @ 11:10am

    haha on americans

    you get what YOU PAY for
    and them corporations will also soon see that no one will buy
    IT hardware will stop
    ISPS will shut down and verizon will tank badly when ACTA gets done.
    open source will be only thing that grows until they pass they ANTI FREE-SOFTWARE TRADE TREATY

    music and movies will not get adverted and we the people will just do without

    were sick a this stupidity

    corporations should have person rights removed
    ITS the ONLY way to SOLVE this once and for all before a revolution and rioting begins.

    they want one keep it up.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 Apr 2010 @ 7:36pm

      Re: haha on americans

      We're also sick of your inability to form complete thoughts and coherent sentences. Your messages continue to be haphazard, without real thought or description beyond 'durr! me no likey!'

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Danny, 9 Apr 2010 @ 11:35am


    This boils down to one thing. EPV is too scared to put their movie up against another to let the fans decide which one is better. So instead of actual...what's the word...oh yeah COMPETITION.... we have studios using the law to stop their competitors.

    And we all know if they win and manage to block the other film they will then brag that their movie is better.

    EPV is run by cowards...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    sehlat (profile), 9 Apr 2010 @ 11:38am

    Contrary to popular opinion, this IS good.

    As long as studio lawyers are hacking each other up, they're not sending out "pre-settlement" letters to innocent third parties.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Mike Venti, 9 Apr 2010 @ 11:51am

    Ridiculous, I was just writing a blog post about this kind of thing today.

    Somebody should tell these guys that their Romeo and Juliet "idea" which they have taken from Shakespeare was actually copied from Arthur Brooke’s narrative poem The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet, published in 1562 (2 years before Shakespeare was even born).

    Oh, and Arthur Brooke apparently translated his poem from an Italian novella written by Matteo Bandello sometime earlier.

    Wasn't copyright created to encourage innovation...?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Hephaestus (profile), 9 Apr 2010 @ 12:04pm

    Anyone want to do a low budget movie ?

    Lets get together crowdfund and do a low budget version of Letter to juliet.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    John Doe, 9 Apr 2010 @ 12:14pm

    Good & Bad

    On the one hand, it is nice to see the copyright maximalists get slammed by copyright but on the other it is not cool because it will perpetuate the idea that they have to pay a "license".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Gatewood Green (profile), 9 Apr 2010 @ 12:24pm

    Common movies get release all the time

    The big studios tend to release in theme sets every so often. We go through Armageddon from asteroids period, then everyone is releasing space opera flicks, then they all jump on the romantic bandwagon. Movies with both loose and tight theme association come out all the time as 'regular' competition. Yes a rare moment when studios are competing as oppose to suing or legislating. Heaven forbid one company made a blockbuster because you just know that at least one other studio will try and ride the wave.

    I think the issue here is a stall tactic whereby one studio is trying to hold the other back long enough to get their version of the theme out to theaters alone instead of having direct competition for viewers. Given two movies of the same type at the same time the viewer-ship will likely split. Whereas if they come out staggered, the first movie will likely get the 'full' audience for this type of movie and the second release will get a residual audience (those who like the theme type and are not already tired from the first movie release).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    arfnotz, 9 Apr 2010 @ 12:29pm

    commonality of ideas

    As a part time writer, I run into this occasianly esp. when dealing with LA based groups. I've signed several agreements that say (in so many words)"we get hundreds of scripts, and many are very similar in concept. We will not even look at your story unless you agree to not sue us if we produce somehting similar at any time in the future."

    I have no problem with that. After all, someone once said "there are only 7 stories in the world".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    sburch79, 9 Apr 2010 @ 12:39pm

    It's the Striesand Effect Used For Good

    Maybe they are just suing each other to get publicity. They noticed how lawsuits like this bring lots of unintended attention to other people. Why not use that to bring attention intentionally to yourself? Seriously, without the lawsuit would you have ever mentioned either of these movies? They probably have lawyers on staff, so it doesn't cost anything extra other than court fees. Way cheaper than buying ad time on tv that people will just fast forward through.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 9 Apr 2010 @ 1:16pm


    yes they corrupted the original story, but ALL of them were written before.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Apr 2010 @ 2:02pm

    George Romero should sue everyone for every zombie movie.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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