“I am Legend” Copyright Infringement?

EDITORIAL NOTE: This is the first in a two part series that will attempt to answer a hypothetical copyright infringement question surrounding the movie and book “I am Legend.”  This post discusses the differences and similarities between the book and the movie and the next post (during the week of January 21, 2008) will address the law associated with determining whether there would have been copyright infringement.  If you have not seen the movie or read the book “I am Legend,” and you plan to, you probably do not want to read this post until you have.

Last week my husband and I went to the movies to see Will Smith in “I am Legend.”  I had received the book for Christmas and tried to get at least a third of the way through it before seeing the movie.  I was surprised in reading only the first few chapters to learn that there were quite a few differences between the movie and the book.

I just finished the book today and cannot believe how significantly different they really are.   In fact the book and the movie are so different it’s surprising that movie director Francis Lawrence “based” his movie on this book.  Listed are some of the major contrasts between book and movie.

  • In the book, Robert Neville is a white man with blond hair, who drinks and smokes like mad.  

  • In the book this happened in the 1970s.

  • In the book Robert Neville is an average man, with little scientific background.   He goes to a library by day to research bacteria, and cells in order to come up with ideas on how to “cure” the vampires.

  • In the book, those infected become “vampires.”

  • In the book, Robert Neville is alone for several years before a lonely dog comes along.   It takes Robert many weeks to earn the dogs trust to where he can sit near the dog and even caress his head as the dog eats the food Robert has put out for him.  

  • In the book after weeks of the dog coming to eat what Robert puts out for him, the dog does not come for a few days.   Robert seeks the dog out only to find that he has been bitten and infected with the “disease.”  Robert takes the dog back to his place where he tries to help him get better.   The dog however grows weaker by the day and dies within a few days, much like his wife did several years before.

  • In the book Robert Neville’s wife is infected with the disease and dies.  The military requires those who have perished from the disease to be cremated in a communal fire pit.  When she dies, Robert can’t bring himself to do this so he takes her out to the woods and buries her himself.  3 days later, she comes back a vampire. 

  • In the book, Robert can go into any place during the day, including where the vampire’s “rest.”   They are in coma like states during the day, so Robert is able to and does seek out as many as he can to put a stake in their hearts.

  • In the book, a few months after his encounter with the dog, he sees a woman walking in broad daylight.   He chases after her and drags her back to his house.  He does not trust her and “tests” her to see if she too is a vampire.  

  • In the book, every night at sunset, the vampires flock to house, where they wait for him to come out.   The women vampires flaunt their naked bodies hoping to entice him, and his carpool companion of many years calls to him every night to “come out Neville.”

  • In the book, Neville discovers that Ruth, the women he found, is in fact, a vampire. She hits him over the head, knocks him out and leaves him a note of warning. She states that she was sent to spy on him.   She tells him that she wants to save him if she can.  She tells him that she is part of a new society of smarter, “living” vampires who have decided to get rid of the “wretched creatures whom death has cheated”   She explains that she was able to be out during daylight for short periods of time because these smarter vampires have created a pill which is a combination of ‘Defebrinated blood which feeds the germs within them and a drug that prevents the germs from multiplication.   He does not heed their warning and decides to stay in his home.  He watches them violently destroy the ‘walking dead” vampires including his previous carpool friend.   After that they turned their attention to Robert’s home.  They broke down his doors with axes and tried to capture him unharmed.   He fought back and was shot at.  They take him to their location.  He is put in a room where Ruth comes in and asks him why he did not heed her warning and tells him that they are going to execute him in front of a large group.   On page 170 of a 317 page book, it is the last you even hear of Robert Neville.


  • In the movie, Robert Neville is a black man, who exercises regularly on his treadmill to keep fit.

  • In the movie it was year 2012.

  • In the movie, Robert Neville is a military scientist who is the lone survivor of a biochemical disease which was supposed to cure cancer 3 years previous.   He even has a laboratory in the basement of his home.

  • In the movie, the word “vampire” is never used.  

  • In the movie he has the dog from day 1 as it was a family pet.

  • In the movie his pet dog eventually has to fight off the infected dogs that try to attack Robert.   He is unfortunately bitten, infected and then dies at the hands of Robert.

  • In the movie, Robert’s wife and daughter perish in a helicopter accident.

  • In the movie, Robert cannot go into any where that is dark, as the creatures will attack him if he does.   He even has several close encounters with the creatures throughout the movie, one in which leads to the death of his faithful companion.

  • In the movie, he broadcasts every day on the AM frequencies for anyone who is out there to meet him at the docks when the sun is highest in the sky.   A women and a boy seek him out.  They eventually rescue him from attack and brings him back to his home.

  • In the movie, they do not know where he lives until this woman brings his home in the dark.  

  • The creatures follow him home and attack his house.   They get in but Robert and the woman and child flee to the basement laboratory.  There he discovers that he has found the cure.  He hands it to the women, hides her in a safe place, then holding a live grenade, he jumps into the midst of the creatures, and dies a hero’s death.

The book continues on for another 147 pages with strange stories of people being possessed with spirits, dead people going to funeral parlors and planning and paying for their own funerals, people being attacked by dolls and the furniture within their home that has “come to life,” young girls who can fight a military brigade just by thinking about it, and so on.  
After reading the book and seeing the movie, it’s a wonder that Director Lawrence even states that the movie is based on this book.   While discussing the difference between the book and movie, this very question came to mind.  There are some similarities between the two, but the book is so incredibly different that one could think they were different stories all together.   This leads to the question of whether the moview would have been infringed in some way the works of Richard Matheson’s book “I am legend” if they had just created the movie without permission and reference to the book.  
This book was by far one of the strangest books I have ever read.  I could not put it down though, because I was eager to see what other differences would be unveiled.


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