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You Can’t Copyright An Idea: Pirates Of The Caribbean Edition

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You Can’t Copyright An Idea: Pirates Of The Caribbean Edition

Postby MrFredPFL » Thu May 23, 2019 7:21 pm

Story :

Back in 2003, Disney released the first in the highly popular Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. The first film, Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, starred Johnny Depp as the lead swashbuckler, Jack Sparrow, with Keira Knightly and Orlando Bloom also featured. I remember watching the movie in college, highly entertained by the humorous portrayal of Jack Sparrow as a rather bumbling, yet still effective, pirate. For those who have been to Disneyland, you may even recognize the prison scene from the movie as a replica of part of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.

Naturally, with the success of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, Disney has been hit with a couple of lawsuits with various authors and artists claiming that the film infringed their copyrights. In the most recent case, a producer and two writers claimed that they had submitted a script with concept art to Disney back in 2000, but that Disney elected not to purchase the script. Disney later released Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl in 2003, followed by four additional movies in the franchise in subsequent years. The plaintiffs alleged that the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise infringed their original script, based on character, setting, theme, dialogue, and other elements.

Last week, the District Court for the Central District of California dismissed the case on a motion for summary judgment, finding that the script submitted to Disney in 2000 and the script of Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl were not substantially similar. The judge ruled that the only similarities that could be found were those common to pirate stories, or generic character concepts that are not afforded copyright law. This concept is fundamental to copyright law: you can’t copyright an idea. I repeat. You. Can’t. Copyright. An. Idea. While an author may hold copyright protection in the particular expression of his idea, stock characters and general plotlines and the like are not eligible for copyright. The idea/expression dichotomy is critical to a functioning copyright system, otherwise ideas would be locked away and the public would be deprived of the differing forms of expressing that same idea. After all, there’s nothing new under the sun. (For the Nick Saban/Lebron James variation of this topic, see here.)

The plaintiffs in the case claimed that both their script and Pirates of the Caribbean portrayed pirates in a different light (as humorous and jovial, rather than scary) and that both works involved cursed pirates. The judge dismissed these claims, finding that an idea like cursed pirates is a basic plot premise. Again, this is simply an idea and not any specific expression of the idea.

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