Muddled copyright waters for Oscar winner
8 March 2018 by Ashton Carter
The Shape of Water, nominated for 13 Academy Awards, suffered a huge setback on the day prior to the opening of all voting for the Oscars when it was sued for copyright infringement by the son of Pulitzer-winning playwright Paul Zindel, who claimed that the film infringed the copyright of and effectively copies the film Let Me Hear You Whisper released in 1969.
Whilst the producers of The Shape of Water maintain their innocence and integrity at the time of learning of the suit, stating that they did not think there were any similarities between the two, the claimant contended that the two films were almost identical in many ways.
Many believe that the filing of the suit on the day in question was merely a tactic to reduce those voting for the film in its host of nominated categories, however, there is no disputing the potential damage that the claim could have and may have caused, not only for the film itself, but for all those involved with it, especially those producing the film.
The timing was however, dismissed as being a tactic of any description, as those acting for Mr Zindel confirmed that they have approached Fox in relation to the allegations several months ago, but such approach was never acknowledged.
As a result, they felt compelled to bring the action in order for the son of Mr Zindel to protect his father’s copyright and to preserve his legacy.
The lawyers for Mr Zindel’s son claim that there are around 61 minimum similarities including that both films are 1960s Cold War stories, which both involve an unmarried janitor and her relationship with an aquatic creature in a secret lab.
Further similarities between the two films have been drawn by fans of both pictures on social media, suggesting that there may indeed be some that support the basis of the claim(s) made.
For the time being, both parties maintain their respective stance. But no matter what the outcome, damage will have been caused to reputations on both sides as a result of the claims made and allegations raised. Copyright is a very difficult area of law to substantive and prove ownership in respect of, given that it is an unregistered intellectual property right that arises when unique material is created. Often the creation date cannot be recorded or determined or in any event, has the ability to be doctored, making claims such as this, notoriously difficult to prove.
This has lead for various calls within the legal profession for reform to the law on copyright but at present, nothing is proposed to resolve such situations.
The case continues and the outcome is awaited in due course.
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