Thursday, March 28, 2013

"Bachelor" spoiler publisher sued; can plots (or "endings") be copyrighted?

It is possible to sue someone successfully for publishing a “spoiler”, according to litigation that has resulted around the ABC show “The Bachelor”  
The Bachelor production companies have litigated successfully against Steve Carbone and the “Reality Steve” website  (link) for publishing spoilers as to the outcome of Sean Lowe’s episodes (leading to eventual wedding choice).  This was actually the second settlement, and the defendant was accused of violating the first agreement.
The MSN story by Tim Kinneallly is here. It wasn’t clear how he got the spoilers.  In another incident, an actress extra was fired for divulging spoilers of an upcoming television show. 

The litigation could raise a question of whether a blogger could be liable for movie (or television miniseries) spoilers.  There could be a question if the blogger saw the movie in advance, or at a film festival, or before it could be accessed by the general public. Once a film has been released the question seems to be less important, although many people do wait to see films and the issue seems more important for multiplex “family films” than more political or esoteric fare. 

Spoilers are often identified on imdb a short time after a film is available and are often found in plot synopses on Wikipedia.  Many variations of the question could come up.  What if a novel is adapted for a movie but “changes” the ending?

There is another question because sometimes movie plots are associated with political issues that deserve discussion.  (How about the “explanation” of the 15-year power blackout in “Revolution”?  Could it really happen, like an EMP blast?) 
Can plots be protected by copyright?  Not just general concepts, but perhaps details of stories and characters can.  Scott Hervey on Weintraub and Tobin has a piece “The complexity of proving copyright infringement”, discussing “Six Feet Under” and :The Funk Parlor”, here

Chilling Effects has an FAQ answer suggesting that  a plot synopsis is not always fair use, if its disclosure could seriously affect the market for the book or film (link ).  probably a stretch in credibility in most cases.  Another site, by Justine Larbaleister, throws cold water on the idea that a writer or studio can protect a plot alone by copyright, here

I am the sort of person who hardly cares if he knows “who did it” before going to a movie or play (in fact, with some plays, like “Shear Madness”, the audience chooses).  I guess I don’t care if I know that “John dies at the end”.  But I can tell, from remarks I read online at movie review sites, that some people do care if they know. 

There was a spoiler incident with "Breaking Bad” on ABC:  Bryan Branston had his plot and script (on  iPad) stolen from his car!  “The Avengers” also had an incident. 

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