November 5, 2021

IP Goes Pop! Season 2, Ep #2: Whose Movie Is It Anyway?

IP Goes PopWhat happens when someone believes a movie is based on their original idea? What sets one Zombie film apart from another? In this episode of IP Goes Pop! intellectual property attorneys and co-hosts Michael Snyder and Joseph Gushue take a trip to a Hollywood writer’s room to explore movies having similar themes and plots.

Michael and Joe explore the intellectual property issues surrounding the stories that make it to the silver screen, and who really created them. This episode begins with a discussion of the intellectual property rights involved in movie ownership, particularly copyrights. Many of these ownership disputes revolve around the Idea/Expression Dichotomy, which is the idea that a copyright does not protect an idea but merely the expression of an idea. Instead, protection for ideas themselves is the basis of another form of intellectual property, patents.

The conversation then turns to a discussion of two important copyright doctrines that have significant implications for the film industry, the Merger Doctrine and the Scenes à Faire Doctrine. These doctrines prohibit the protection of ideas that are only capable of being expressed in one way and the protection of an expression that flows from a commonplace idea, respectively.

This episode concludes with a dive into a pair of cases involving disputes over two popular movies, Zootopia and Coming to America. Does Zootopia own the expression of the idea of animals in a “human” setting? Was Coming to America based on a stolen script about a displaced monarch? Find out on this episode of IP Goes Pop!

In this episode:

  • Merger Doctrine
    • Merger of an “idea” and an “expression”
    • Blair Witch Project
    • Cloverfield
  • Scenes à Faire Doctrine
    • “The wacky neighbor”
    • “The angry, gruff or clueless boss”
    • “First time in the big city/fish out of water”
  • Twin Movies
    • Volcano & Dante’s Peak
    • Dracula Movies
    • Zombie Movies
    • Tombstone & Wyatt Earp
    • Armageddon & Deep Impact
    • Braveheart & Robb Roy
  • Esplanade Products v. Walt Disney Co.
    • Author versus Zootopia
  • Buchwald v. Paramount Pictures, Corp.
    • “King for a Day” story versus Coming to America

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