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The Shape of Copyright: Guillermo Del Toro film deemed not to have committed infringement

Written by Alex Baker on 26 July 2018

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Hollywood director Guillermo Del Toro’s 2018 fantasy film ‘The Shape of Water’ has been deemed by a US judge to not have copied the 1969 play ‘Let Me Hear You Whisper’ in sufficient enough a way as to have committed copyright infringement.

The lawsuit by the playwright’s son claimed the stories were identical in what was counted as 61 ways.

Overall, the 2018 film depicts a love story between a mute janitor who falls in love with a sentient amphibious creature, while the 1969 play depicts a cleaning lady who is drawn to and attempts to rescue a particular dolphin being used for experiments in a laboratory.

The judge, however, dismissed this in saying that the two stories only shared “a basic premise”.

He would state that while the plots were similar, the overall concept was “too general to be protected”, and that the two pieces of work certainly explore different themes and character choices.

Indeed, this would mean the judge agrees that the overall expression of the fundamental concept was significantly different enough as to not constitute copyright infringement – it is a particular expression of a concept that is protected by copyright, not the actual concept itself.

He would go on to rule that the “action is dismissed with prejudice”, meaning it cannot be brought back to court, and the defendants were entitled to recover their legal costs.

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