Once Again, If Someone Has The Same Lame Story Idea You Had, It's Not Copyright Infringement

from the just-saying dept

Over the years, we've noted time and time again that people seem to think that if a book, movie or TV show comes out that has some basic similarities to a project they worked on, it simply must be copyright infringement. But, of course, copyright is supposed to apply to specific expression, rather than mere ideas. As we've noted, over the years, the line on this is unfortunately blurry, but for some cases, it's pretty clear that there's no infringement at all. Such is the case in a legal fight over a Disney movie (direct to video, of course) about a dog who helps Santa Claus. Three guys came up with a similar idea, which they wrote as a short story (it took three guys to come up with such an idea?) and then decided that the movie must have infringed on their copyright. It did not. I'll let THREsq's summary explain:
The court acknowledged that the short story and the Disney movies had some elements in common: they all feature a threat to Christmas and a talking dog; all feature a dog named Paws, Santa Paws or Puppy Paws; they all have magical icicles; etc. There also is some similar dialogue. However, "apart from these abstract similarities, the remaining elements of the plaintiffs' short story and defendants' movies are substantially dissimilar," the court notes. "Furthermore, most of the aforementioned similarities between plaintiffs' short story and defendants' works are not protected by copyright law."
While we can point to cases like this and say that the system is working, just the fact that such cases so often get filed shows a real problem. We've so built up this perception of copyright-over-all and "ownership society" that people really do think that anyone having the same idea as them must have infringed -- and are so sure of it that they're willing to go to court. That's a symptom of a much bigger problem with the system and the way people view it today.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Sep 25th, 2012 @ 4:22pm

    But but but I just have to have an idea and I can be paid forever from it!
    This is my idea, there are many ideas like it and they are all infringing bastards.

    And in a world where rounded rectangles and colors are considered to be someones property, this makes total sense... and we should nuke that world from orbit and try again.

     

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  2.  
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    Milton Freewater, Sep 25th, 2012 @ 4:37pm

    In fairness to the plaintiffs

    "We've so built up this perception of copyright-over-all and 'ownership society' that people really do think that anyone having the same idea as them must have infringed"

    In fairness to the plaintiffs, they probably knew they weren't wronged. They're just trying to snag their piece of the pie in a broken system. They're only looters. And really, who can blame them? Everybody else is doing it.

     

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  3.  
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    MrWilson, Sep 25th, 2012 @ 4:42pm

    While these three guys are indeed idiots, I'd sooner sympathize with them than I would with the non-artist IP maximalists.

    "I lawyered artists out of the copyrights for their works that I put absolutely no effort into creating and I deserve to perpetually make money off of them forever!"

     

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  4.  
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    Kelli, Sep 25th, 2012 @ 4:45pm

    I think the deep pocket defendant (Disney) had a lot to do with the filing of this case. Would they have filed if it was no-name company or author? I don't think so.

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 25th, 2012 @ 5:23pm

    Like Jesus? "trollface"

     

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  6.  
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    Godwin's law, Sep 25th, 2012 @ 5:46pm

    Re:

    EXACTY LIKE HITLER

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 25th, 2012 @ 6:02pm

    Mike, perhaps you might want to read the story again and see if you can come to the slightly bigger conclusion: Let me help you out.

    This judgement says that two people can write SIMILAR stories without infringement. You know that vague and scary monopoly thing you keep talking about? If it exists, it's pretty small here.

    So the biggest point is that copyright is both well defined in law and narrow in scope (in individual cases). Perhaps you should consider this the next time you want to try to generalize and claim copyright is stopping everything from happening. It's not.

     

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  8.  
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    djgude (profile), Sep 25th, 2012 @ 6:14pm

    It has to be said again and again because so many people (including lawyers, judges and politicians)have so many misconceptions about IP.

    You can't copyright an idea is a very easy rule to remember.

     

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  9.  
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    CK20XX, Sep 25th, 2012 @ 7:34pm

    Re:

    Anonymous Coward, perhaps you might want to read the story before commenting and see that Mike did actually say that the rejection could be seen as evidence that copyright law actually works. The point, however, is that people shouldn't even be filing cases like this in the first place. Courts today are getting flooded with cases like this, and everyone is sick to death of it. When situations like these cause the public to lose mass respect for a law, said law becomes impotent and obsolete.

    I'm sorry you don't see it that way, but your attitude that copyright is the ultimate authority by which all must abide really doesn't earn you any respect. It's hard to take your opposite stance seriously when you don't read the articles and act more religious than most pastors.

     

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  10. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 25th, 2012 @ 8:48pm

    Re: Re:

    NO, you shold read whats written, not blindly defend your pirate master

    ""While we can point to cases like this and say that the system is working"" the nice polite thing to say, before you create your own answer


    ""just the fact that such cases so often get filed shows a real problem. We've so built up this perception of copyright-over-all and "ownership society" that people really do think that anyone having the same idea as them must have infringed -- and are so sure of it that they're willing to go to court. That's a symptom of a much bigger problem with the system and the way people view it today.

    AHH there it is, mikes real complaint, the only reason he wrote about it, so he can bash ont he copyright system, and the court system, he doesn't think people have a right to sue when they feel wronged, its the courts job to decide thelaw in thier case, not for mikey to say they don't get to go to court, thats why this is America, oh wait, mike must hate America too

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 25th, 2012 @ 9:20pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    You don't think courts getting flooded with these cases are a problem? And to think you're the same idiot who thinks filming policemen will bring law enforcement to a screeching halt. So flooding policemen is wrong but flooding the courts is acceptable?

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 25th, 2012 @ 9:27pm

    Re: Re:

    "I'm sorry you don't see it that way, but your attitude that copyright is the ultimate authority by which all must abide really doesn't earn you any respect."

    Do you live in bizarre absolute land? Is there nothing in the middel for you? Is it all or nothing? Is it copyright has us all under it's thumb or abolish it?

    " It's hard to take your opposite stance seriously when you don't read the articles and act more religious than most pastors."

    Actually, as the other AC pointed out, I read fine. Mike may make a vague passing suggestion that this shows copyright might work out, but then he spends the rest of his time hammering it.

    Perhaps you may want to remove your lips from Mike's internet butthole for a minute and read the whole story, not just the parts right above his virtual anus. Then perhaps you might understand that faint praise is usually used for damning things.

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 26th, 2012 @ 12:03am

    I can't help but suspect that the court's decision would have been the opposite, had Disney been the one suing the three guys.

     

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  14.  
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    Josef Anvil (profile), Sep 26th, 2012 @ 12:33am

    IP maximalists should take statistics

    When you have 8 billion human minds randomly thinking up thoughts, what are the odds that 4 individuals will come up with similar ideas?

     

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  15.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Sep 26th, 2012 @ 1:17am

    Re:

    Have a 'sad but true/insightful' vote for that one.

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 26th, 2012 @ 1:40am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Do you live in bizarre absolute land? Is there nothing in the middel for you? Is it all or nothing? Is it copyright has us all under it's thumb or abolish it?

    That so much defines you I clicked on "funny".

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 26th, 2012 @ 1:49am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Will there be an end to you insulting this site's readers ?

    Who are you to say anyone with a different opinion and a different values scale is against America, or any other country.

    You might want to consider how much your loyalty goes to corporations interests rather than any state. And how much your value set is largely unbalanced for trade vs. freedom .

     

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  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 26th, 2012 @ 2:07am

    Re: IP maximalists should take statistics

    depends. how many thoughts per day ?

     

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  19.  
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    Cory of PC (profile), Sep 26th, 2012 @ 5:10am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Not sure if being serious or trying to be funny...

     

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  20.  
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    ch'kody (profile), Sep 26th, 2012 @ 5:11am

    It took three guys?

    Maybe [just maybe] these three decided to just get together and have a nice time, possibly discussing many other things besides. I doubt Disney is one person behind the scenes that created the said story.

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 26th, 2012 @ 6:14am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Actually, he spends time hammering on people filing frivolous suits when they could have saved a ton of time and money by just going over what the actual works contained, and what elements actually could be protected by their copyrights. You're so quick to slam Mike and try to show him as absolutely against this or that or the other, and then claim that you aren't dealing in absolutes. Seriously, if all you're going to do is come here to bash Mike and belittle the intelligence of the readership, here, perhaps you're really just wasting time. Your's and our's.

     

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  22.  
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    abc gum, Sep 26th, 2012 @ 7:31am

    Re: Re: Re:

    "thats why this is America, oh wait, mike must hate America too"

    LOL, that's funny.

     

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  23.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 26th, 2012 @ 7:37am

    I once saw a top ten list of story ideas/tropes that sci-fi publishers see so often that they get rejected almost instantly. What was perhaps most enlightening about the list was that some of those ideas are ones that I could have easily believed were very clever and original story ideas if I had thought them up on my own. It just goes to show that no matter how much you want to believe that you're the first to get an idea, the odds that somebody somewhere has gotten the same idea are much higher than you might think.

     

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  24.  
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    The eejit (profile), Sep 26th, 2012 @ 7:37am

    Re: IP maximalists should take statistics

    It's the "monkeys on typewriters" thing, isn't it? All those monkeys are keyed into my thoughts, some of which are even about Shakespeare!

    Also, you now have the mental image of a monkey running on a dream treadmill.

     

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  25.  
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    Mike Martinet (profile), Sep 26th, 2012 @ 7:52am

    Possibly

    ...they all have magical icicles; etc

    I think those guys might have been standing too close to them.

     

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  26.  
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    nospacesorspecialcharacters (profile), Sep 26th, 2012 @ 8:22am

    Irony

    The irony is, if Disney had it's way with current copyright law, they absolutely would have lost the case.

    To borrow from a popular colloquialism...

    There are no copyright maximalists in the dock.

     

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  27.  
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    average_joe (profile), Sep 26th, 2012 @ 8:51am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    You don't think courts getting flooded with these cases are a problem?

    How many such cases "flood" the courts? You are assuming that it's a huge problem without evidence to back it up. Seems to me that Mike just cherry-picks a few cases, and then pretends like it's a huge problem. Of course, Mike is just mindlessly bashing IP. It's all he knows.

     

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  28.  
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    average_joe (profile), Sep 26th, 2012 @ 8:56am

    Re:

    So the biggest point is that copyright is both well defined in law and narrow in scope (in individual cases). Perhaps you should consider this the next time you want to try to generalize and claim copyright is stopping everything from happening. It's not.

    Exactly. And Mike left out some critical facts. The plaintiffs pitched a movie idea to Disney called "Santa Paws." The story line was that a dog called "Santa Paws" saves Christmas by using a magic crystal. Disney rejected the idea. But then years later they made a movie called "Santa Paws" where the story is that a dog named "Santa Paws" saves Christmas with a magic crystal.

    So it's not these guys were just suing for no good reason. It's funny too because on these facts there's a good argument that big bad Disney is ripping off artists. I'm surprised Mike didn't harp on that. He was too busy pretending like the substantial similarity doctrine means there's no idea-expression dichotomy. These articles are so mindless and predictable. It's a shame that Mike's on anti-IP FUD autopilot.

     

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  29.  
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    Cory of PC (profile), Sep 26th, 2012 @ 10:39am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Evidence? You talk about evidence? Tell us then, do you have any evidence of Mike "mindlessly bashing" IP? Where is this evidence of this?

     

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  30.  
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    Cory of PC (profile), Sep 26th, 2012 @ 11:31am

    I Got an Idea

    You know, I got an idea for a story of my own... it deals with this vampire falling for a human girl and there's a love triangle and werewolves...

    And that's all I have in common in Twilight. So what I have the same elements; I didn't go into any specifications on what I just said and I do have a plot going for my story that is, as far as I know, different than what is in Twilight. As far as anyone knows, I got my own twist to the idea and, as someone who calls himself a "salvager," could work until I get every detail fixed and perfect to my vision. From there, I'll let the public decide if it's worth reading or am I'm going to be the next butt of the joke (joining E.L. James alongside Meyer)

     

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  31.  
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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Sep 26th, 2012 @ 6:46pm

    Re: I Got an Idea

     

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


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