Plagiarism in Movies: A Behind-the-Camera Story

October 23rd, 2020

Reading time about 13 min

Many filmmakers plagiarize content from others but try to alleviate the plagiarism cases by terming the similarity as an inspiration. However, direct plagiarism, like word-to-word lifting or complete replication of scenes, cannot be regarded as original work. Many films have committed plagiarism in movies from a variety of different sources.

However, in the case of films, pinpointing the source is not always easy. Mosaic plagiarism is also present in films where scenes copied scenes get blended with other scenes. Writers also utilize the same kind of patchwork plagiarism for writing the screenplay, composing the background score, songs, and more.

plagiarism in movies, Film clapper board

In the case of unpublished sources proving plagiarism becomes all the more difficult. In the case of an unpublished work, it also becomes hard to prove copyright infringement. Hence, in many ways, plagiarism in movies has become naturalized.

However, that does not imply that blatant plagiarists can get away with it because one cannot use copyrighted works for any commercial purpose without the author’s written permission. Authors of unpublished works can also cite similarities and sue the filmmaker.

In the Present Era, the Plagiarist Cannot Escape Quite Easily

In an era of increasing plagiarism instances, there is also a good scope to find the plagiarists in the film industry due to technological advancement.

The online platform provides information rapidly, and plagiarism in films is detected relatively easily by viewers, and the information gets shared swiftly. In many cases, the viewers have raised the alarm regarding the instances of plagiarism in the movie.

plagiarism in movies, People watching movie in theater

The people whose work has been plagiarized in films often get to know about the plagiarism from viewers. The original author has the option to file a lawsuit against the filmmaker for plagiarizing his/her work. The author can claim compensation for copyright infringement.

Well-Known Examples of Plagiarism in the Film Industry

The commercial success of a film is not an indicator of its originality. Many commercially successful films have been well-liked by the audience, but those films contain plagiarized content. Some famous examples of plagiarism in movies are:

  1. Howard Cantour.com

Shia Labeouf did this short film. However, he frequently got his name tangled with cases of plagiarism. From tweets to public apologies, he is known to plagiarize almost everything. This short film was released in the Cannes Film Festival in 2012. The film revolved around the character Jim Gaffigan who was an online film critic.

The movie initially garnered positive reviews and was well appreciated its empathetic tone. However, after the movie’s release on the online platform in 2013, the virtual viewers took no time to note the overt similarity between the film and the comic ‘Justin M. Damiano’ by Daniel Clowes, published in 2007. Labeouf had to issue a public apology for his unethical act of plagiarism.

  1. The Martian

The 2015 film released under the banner of Fox Star Studios had allegedly stolen the screenplay from Mikhail Raskhodnikov’s Marsianin. According to the Russian screenwriter, he had submitted the script of ‘Marsianin’ to both local and international production houses.

He has brought the allegation that through the Russian office of Fox Star Studios, his script has reached the headquarters of Fox. Raskhodnikov filed for damages amounting to 50 million rubles in the Russian Court against Fox for plagiarizing the plotline and other details from his 2008 script.

  1. The Terminator

The plagiarism case involved in this movie is particularly impressive. The director of the film, James Cameroon, is not new to lawsuits regarding plagiarism in his films. However, in most cases, the lawsuits never progressed further.

When The Terminator came out in 1984, the first movie of the sequence followed a nuclear war story between human beings and the machines. Harlan Ellison brought the case of plagiarism against this movie was brought. He argued that the film’s opening scene was stolen from the series “The outer limits” written by him.

plagiarism in movies, Arnold Schwarzenegger

As an American Science Fiction writer, he had written numerous stories that showed a post-apocalyptic world. The episodes that bore similarity with ‘The Terminator’ are “Soldier” and “Demon with a Glass Hand.”

There was no lawsuit in this case because Orion pictures opted to settle with Harlan Ellison. Apart from an out-of-court- settlement, Ellison had his credit in the movie.

  1. Inception

It is another popular film that almost has a cult following, but one cannot consider the work of Christopher Nolan in this film as entirely original. There are apparent similarities between this film’s plotline and concept with the 2006 anime created by Satoshi Kon titled ‘Paprika.’

In ‘Paprika,’ a DC Mini device is used to enter the dreams of others. The theft of this device causes problems as dreams and reality start to blur together. Almost the same concept is there in the film. There are some scenes in the movie that are very similar to the anime.

However, the plagiarism case of ‘Inception’ did not boil down to a lawsuit. Viewers have pointed out the similarities, but it is not enough to file a plagiarism lawsuit against the production house.

Conclusion:

Committing plagiarism is unethical. A morally upright person will not try to steal another person’s credit by plagiarizing his/her work. However, in unintentional plagiarism, out-of-court settlements between the filmmaker and the author can make things right.

Some authors do not seek compensation but only want their due credit. If it is a case of accidental plagiarism, then the filmmaker issues an unconditional public apology and provides credit. However, if the director or the production house refuses to acknowledge the film’s plagiarism, then the court decides the case’s fate.

Avoiding plagiarism is essential, but in the film industry, copyright infringement has become widespread. Hence, reporting copyright infringement is necessary so that filmmakers’ propensity to plagiarize content is effectively curbed.

Love what you read? ❤️

Subscribe to our newsletter