Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Steal this idea!

Techdirt has a post breathlessly claiming to have caught movie directors in a stunning admission: they "admit" that they "steal" ideas from previous movies. Thieves! Hypocrites! Actually, not at all. Under copyright law, you are perfectly free to "steal" ideas and use them in your movie, for the simple reason that ideas are not protected by copyright at all. It's right there in Section 102(b) of the Copyright Act:
In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.
(my emphasis). Techdirt claims that "these days...there's been an ongoing push to make people think they can own ideas and concepts," but it doesn't provide any evidence or even examples, and we aren't told who's doing all this alleged pushing. It's certainly true that successful (and even many unsuccessful) movies and TV shows routinely draw copyright lawsuits -- which has long been the case. But these kinds of copyright cases (usually brought by disappointed Hollywood wannabes) are extremely difficult to win; in fact they are routinely dismissed by courts on the grounds that the similarities between the works was only in unprotectable ideas, not protectable expression. Just a few recent examples here, here, here, and here.

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