Most people can read the basic copyright warnings that are played before a movie, and it’s generally understood that there are similar copyrights in written work.
One of the aspects of copyright some people fail to understand that just because your work has copyright protectable parts to it, does not mean that the work itself cannot have copyable parts. A famous copyright case featured a book about World War II and Dwight D. Eisenhower, where a film highlighted parts of World War II from Eisenhower’s perspective was the subject of a copyright infringement claim by the copyright holders of a book by Eisenhower himself.
This case is not the subject of the article however the result that came from it is important. The court said that the retelling of facts about an event in history is not protectable.
Similarly, a more recent case beginning in 2007 affirmed this same idea of fair use of unprotectable elements. A novel was written about the lead guitarist of the Four Seasons, Tommy DeVito. When the original author died, the copyright was held by his widow.
The popular play “The Jersey Boys” was based on the four seasons and references some elements of the book. The widow learned of this and later sued the writers of the play for copyright infringement.
This case had a similar result for a slightly different reason, for the play used specific instances from the band’s career as part of their narrative, and while they were somewhat fictionalized in the play and the novel, the court said that due to the novel being held out to the public as a true biography, these fictionalized exaggerations can be treated the same as facts, not copyright protectable.
Identifying the parts of your work that are copyright protectable is very important to understand exactly what is protectable about your work. For example, while your photograph of a house or a certain item might be protectable, the idea to take that photo is not. Jane photographer can see the picture and say “wow what beautiful scenery” and photograph the house the next day if she wanted to (with proper permissions from the owner.
Many people think that a movie that is similar to another is a stolen or infringed idea; fun fact, almost all movies could be called “stolen ideas.” My literature teacher used to say there are only like 8-12 stories in fiction.
Only the added creative element is the protectable part of a work and with literary works, there is much grey area but a golden rule/the takeaway from this article and case is that a fact is not protectable, it is all about protecting the expression.
For more copyright concerns, reach out to Eden Law via the form linked on our website, we’ve obtained official copyright protection for our clients and significant settlements when their copyright has been infringed.
Written by: Christian R. Dudley