Mark Twain famously said that “there is no such thing as a new idea.” He observed that storytellers all over the world simply twist ideas that already exist into different combinations to make something new. That concept also applies to the fact that people cannot establish copyright of an idea.
A recent case involving Disney’s famous Pirates of the Caribbean franchise only proves this issue.
“Pirates” has faced a few accusations over the years
Although Coats & Bennet, PLLC, was not involved in the case, Disney’s lawsuit demonstrates a common issue that arises in the complex arena of intellectual property law.
Screenplay writers accused Disney of using their ideas and elements of their plot for the 2003 box-office success, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, which is also based off of the theme park ride. This is not necessarily a new issue for Disney. Ever since the movie hit theaters, several artists have claimed that Disney used their ideas over the years. None of these claims succeeded against the huge corporation.
In this case, the screenplay writers say they submitted their script to Disney in 2000. Disney never responded to the submission, but then only a few years later they premiered the movie that the writers claimed was suspiciously close to their own script, plot lines and characters.
Court maintains common ideas are not protected by copyright
While the court presiding over the Disney case did find some similarities between the film and the writers’ screenplay, it determined that the two were different enough to prove Disney did not violate copyright laws.
The court stated that storylines involving cursed pirates or even sea monsters are natural ideas that are nothing new to the genre of pirate stories. Many stories include the same elements, just in a different combination, as Twain would say. Therefore, the court ruled that the screenplay writers could not claim a copyright over an incredibly common element in stories involving pirates.
Works can be copyrighted—ideas within the work cannot
The ruling may align with Mark Twain’s idea, but this concept is clearly included in the United States copyright laws as well. While artists—or anyone who creates intellectual property—can copyright their actual product or work, they do not have the right or ability to establish copyright over the intangible concept that inspired the work.