The Shape of Water claim dismissed

A US court has dismissed a copyright claim that had been filed against The Shape of Water director Guillermo Del Toro and Fox Searchlight by the son of Pulitzer winning playwright Paul Zindel.

In dismissing the claim, the District Judge held there were only “minor similarities” between the film and Zindel’s 1969 play Let Me Hear You Whisper.

The claim had alleged that the film incorporated “numerous copyright protectible literary elements from the play” and the similarities were “too egregious to ignore”.

In particular it alleged that there were at least 61 similarities between the play and the film and the film had been made “knowing that it infringed Zindel’s original literary work”.

Both works follow the story of a cleaner who works in a laboratory and falls in love with an aquatic creature that is being subjected to scientific experiments.

The Judge held that while the works share a “basic premise” the “concept is too general to be protected” and there were only “minor similarities” between them.

In a 17-page judgment, the judge ruled that the claimant’s list of alleged similarities included “many over-generalisations of the works” and “often mischaracterises one or both works”.

The judgment concluded that “Despite some superficial similarities and some shared basic plot points, the stories told by the film and the book on the one hand, and the play on the other, are different.”

The decision is a reminder that copyright does not protect ideas but rather the expression of ideas and for infringement, a substantial part of another’s work must be found to have been taken.