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One author, two shows, same plot: is it copyright infringement?

If you're a regular visitor to our blog then you will have noticed the number of real-world cases that we have presented to best exemplify the complexities of entertainment law. By looking at these cases, our readers are oftentimes left with a better understanding of how complicated the law can get and why it's typically necessary to seek legal help during these situations.

The case we are about to present in this week's post is no different. Although it comes from another state, it illustrates a unique a problem that could easily arise here in California. The case begs an important question: can a writer ever infringe upon their own creative work? It's a difficult question the courts will have to consider carefully by looking at who had the right to the intellectual property.

In the case of Latele Television v. Telemundo, Latele is accusing Telemundo of copyright infringement because of similarities between two shows the companies both aired. According to the complaint, Telemundo's show "El Rostro de Analia" contains the same "exposition, conflict, climax and closure" as the Latele show "Maria Maria." Latele claims that the similarities exist because Telemundo hired the author of "Maria Maria" to write "El Rostro de Analia." It's because of this, Latele claims, that the two shows are virtually indistinguishable.

Because the same author wrote both shows, the question is raised: do the similarities constitute as copyright infringement? This will likely depend on who owned the intellectual property rights to the creative work.

If the author retained the intellectual property rights to the concept behind the first show, then Telemundo could have gotten permission from the author to produce the derivative work. However, if Latele owned the rights to the creative work, then Telemundo would have needed to get permission from Latele to use elements of the original work before it produced the second show.

Because Latele presented "incorrect or misleading deposition testimony" regarding its claims, the court is allowing Telemundo more time to gather supportive evidence for their case. Depending on how the court decides, one side may receive compensation in the end.

Source: Courthouse News Service, "Telemundo Gets More Time for Discovery," Deshayla Strachan, Nov. 17, 2014

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