EDITORIAL - A Legal Minute: Of Gods & Copywright: The Percy Jackson Series
A Legal Minute: A little bit of the legal side of the biz you can read in a minute.
Of Gods And Copyright
Back in undergrad I fell one credit short of a minor in the Classics. I was always a big fan of the Greek, Roman, and Egyptian mythologies. This fascination has stayed with me through the years, so I have a particular affinity for films about mythology. And over the past few years we have seen a rise of films such as Clash of the Titans that draw on the mythological tales. One of the more overlooked films that I enjoyed from the last few years was the highly underrated Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief. The mix of modern teenage heroics and mythology made for a fun film.
It’s no wonder that one of the cases that caught my eye this week was that of Robyn and Tony DiTocco versus 20th Century Fox and the Walt Disney Co. and others, including the authors of the Percy Jackson series of novels. Last September a New York judge prevented a lawsuit by the DiTocco’s against the Percy Jackson series of novels and films. Apparently, the DiTocco’s own the rights to their own teenage book series based on a character by the name of “Percy John,” who is a character descended from the demi-god Perseus.
The Plaintiffs in this case relied on a claim of copyright infringement, claiming that their own copyrighted series of novels formed the basis of the Percy Jackson series. In a copyright infringement case, the party bringing the suit, has to show that there is a substantial similarity to the material that is allegedly infringing on the original material. Multiple factors can be considered by the court to decide a case like this. In this case in particular, the federal judge who reviewed the case last year looked at how long after the original work the offending work was created, in which person (first person v. third person) the two different works were written, and how Greek mythology has woven into the story.
In the end the judge came to the conclusion that the concepts of the two films differed enough to prevent a trial on the merits of the case. Well, the plaintiffs, of course, were none too happy with the decision and chose to appeal it to the 2nd Circuit Court (the federal appeals court that covers New York and several other states). Much to the dismay of the plaintiffs, this past week the appellate court decided to uphold the decision of the trial judge, stating that the “total concept and overall feel” of the films differed enough to warrant the judge’s decision. Ultimately the defendants were helped by the status of the stories of Greek mythology, which have been long held to be stories in the public domain and non-copyrightable.
It remains to be seen if the plaintiffs will appeal further to the Supreme Court. It would be a hard road. Appeals courts rarely like to overturn decisions that were made at the discretion of the trial judge, and this will be no exception. And lucky for the defendants, it seems the dark cloud over their novel and film franchise might finally be lifted.
Roberto “R.C.” Rondero de Mosier is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, California, New York and Illinois. He is a partner at Gonzalez & Mosier Law PLLC. His practice specializes in Entertainment Law and Intellectual Property rights. In his spare time he enjoys watching television and films, and writing about it. Follow him on Twitter @showbizattorney, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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