Generally, a work has to be very similar to another copyrighted work in order to be considered infringing on that work's copyright. But here in Los Angeles, where it can seem like everyone is working in different versions of the same idea, it isn't easy to understand the contours of copyright law.
For clarity, let's look at a recent entertainment-related lawsuit.
Two authors recently had the loss of their copyright infringement suit against Walt Disney Co. and 20th Century Fox affirmed by an appeals court.
The plaintiffs had sued the studios alleging that the studios' adaptations of the "Percy Jackson" series of novels infringed on their copyrights. "Percy Jackson" follows a descendant of the Greek hero Perseus on his many adventures, was a copy of their own line of novels, which are about a hero named Percy John,who also descends from Perseus.
A year ago, a federal judge in New York tossed their lawsuit out. He pointed out that even though there were a few similarities, they were outnumbered by dissimilarities:
- The character of Percy John is older than Percy Jackson
- The Percy John books are told in the third person while Percy Jackson is told in the first person.
- "Percy John's" treatment of Greek mythology and history is greatly different from that of "Percy Jackson."
That decision was upheld late last week by the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which also pointed out that both works had significant roots in Greek mythology and that Greek mythology is in the public domain and cannot be protected.
Source: The Hollywood Reporter, "Appeals Court Confirms Fox's Victory in 'Percy Jackson' Copyright Lawsuit," Eriq Gardner, Sept. 14, 2012