Judge tosses copyright suit against Apple and M. Night Shyamalan

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A federal judge on Thursday dismissed a lawsuit that accused Apple and director M. Night Shyamalan of copying key aspects of the 2013 film "The Truth About Emanuel" with the Apple TV+ original "Servant."

Servant


In a ruling handed down to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Judge John F. Walter said "Servant" is not similar enough to "The Truth About Emanuel" to warrant a copyright claim, reports Variety.

"In sum, the alleged similarities between the works pale in comparison to the differences in the plot, themes, dialogue, mood, setting, pace, characters, and sequence of events, and the Court concludes that the works at issue are not substantially similar as a matter of law," Walter wrote.

Filed in January by Francesca Gregorini, writer and director of "The Truth About Emanuel," the suit alleged "Servant" not only stole the plot of the film, but also aped production and cinematography choices.

"[The] plot description of 'Emanuel' could just as easily be applied to 'Servant,' made six years later. And that's just the beginning of the commonalities between the two works," the original filing reads. "These similarities include not just parallel plot points, but also strikingly similar -- and highly idiosyncratic -- characters, scenes, directorial choices, and modes of storytelling."

Both works center around a mother who cares for a doll as if it were a real child, and focuses on her relationship with a hired nanny. Like "Emanuel," "Servant" deals with grief and emotional attachment after a tragic loss, Gregorini argues.

While the shows have similarities, Walter said sharing a premise does not constitute a violation of copyright law.

"Beyond this unprotectable shared premise, the works' storylines diverge drastically and quickly," he wrote.

Further, major plot points in "Servant" significantly deviate from "Emanuel," with the judge noting the overall tone of the two productions are largely different.

Walter dismissed the suit with prejudice, but Gregorini vowed to appeal in a statement to Variety:
"Today's ruling is disappointing, but not surprising. The balance of power in the entertainment industry has always favored powerful men and institutions. Their ultimate goal is to silence anyone whose work they steal and repurpose without credit.

"'The Truth About Emanuel' is a very personal labor of love. It took me years to write, finance, and direct. To have all that work stolen is not only hurtful, it disregards all the hard work needed to bring Emanuel to the screen. Unfortunately, this is the status quo in the entertainment industry. Powerful, mostly male, forces work to take what they want from other creators and repurpose it as their own. Throughout this process, I've heard from countless other filmmakers whose work has been stolen without permission. And this is M. Night Shylaman's third time being accused of unlawfully taking others' work. Where there is smoke, there is fire.

"My case is an attempt to hold those powerful forces accountable and protect the work of so many talented voices who are not as rich and powerful as M. Night Shyamalan. I hoped for a different outcome. I will not allow this to silence me. I intend to appeal this ruling and continue to make my case that Servant' and The Truth About Emanuel' share similarities that were undoubtedly and knowingly plagiarized."

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 5
    chasmchasm Posts: 3,333member
    I completely believe that Mr. Shyamalan took inspiration and copied the fundamental idea, and the ruling from the judge indicates this as well. However, that's not illegal (as the judge also made clear). Virtually no musical, romantic comedy, western, "isolated teens" horror movie or any other kind of genre-heavy film, homage, or satire could be made otherwise. I have my own story to tell about having an idea/show concept copied by a larger entity, but this isn't the place for that.

    Ms Gregorini appears to have both a) some issues outside of the actual complaint and b) no understanding of the term "with prejudice." Given the marked differences in the two works, I do not buy her characterization that it is only because Mr. Shyamalan is male that he won the case. Instead, she seems determined to destroy her chances of future film funding -- which is a shame, as her original idea and film were strong, and making more films with further novel plots would vindicate her far better than a court would ever have done.
    bshankflyingdplolliverwilliamlondonDAalsethStrangeDaysllama
  • Reply 2 of 5
    SpamSandwichSpamSandwich Posts: 33,407member
    Both draw heavily on underlying ideas first established in Pinocchio.
    lolliverbeowulfschmidtDAalsethchasmviclauyycjony0
  • Reply 3 of 5
    Rayz2016Rayz2016 Posts: 6,957member
    Both draw heavily on underlying ideas first established in Pinocchio.
    Mmm. Hadn’t thought of that. 
  • Reply 4 of 5
    john f.john f. Posts: 111member
    chasm said:
    Instead, she seems determined to destroy her chances of future film funding -- which is a shame, as her original idea and film were strong, and making more films with further novel plots would vindicate her far better than a court would ever have done.
    Agree. But they don't see that. All they see is their baby, and the blood and sweat it took. Furthermore, it's one thing to assert your work is copied, but she takes on the narrative of "Powerful, mostly male, forces work to take what they want from other creators and repurpose it as their own. [...] My case is an attempt to hold those powerful forces accountable and protect the work of so many talented voices who are not as rich and powerful as M. Night Shyamalan. I hoped for a different outcome. I will not allow this to silence me." I'm not dismissing the ways she feels about it, but again using that perspective of "privileged men are out to get her" to ground her case is ludicrous. But she may not even care if it hurts her career, because isn't that exactly her goal? To prove she's right? And she's probably thinking, there are lots of female producers these days, so it will not be such a problem to make more content.
    edited May 2020
  • Reply 5 of 5
    EsquireCatsEsquireCats Posts: 1,268member
    The plaintiff's original claim was so absurd that it's like they never even saw Servant. The only similarity between the two is that it involves the concept of living doll. Which by the way it not an entirely original thought either. The idea of haunted or living dolls is so unoriginal that it's Biblical, literally: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golem ;

    I don't even think MNS took inspiration - they're just not similar stories at all. Copyright is a serious matter and if there is any fact to the matter it would be considered more deeply.

    tht
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