Copyright Question

A Real Page Turner – a Copyright Question from The Brokenwood Mysteries

Sunday night is time for watching The Brokenwood Mysteries, and among the many tangled threads in the latest episode was the issue of “stealing” the plot for a novel.  “Have you talked to a lawyer?” the investigator asked.  (There was no appearance from lawyer character, Dennis Buchanan, who does not specialise in intellectual property issues.)

This is a legal question that has arisen in some high profile cases – JK Rowling and Dan Brown have both been involved in legal action where earlier authors claimed (unsuccessfully) that they had copied elements from their book.

The main problem for potential claimants is that copyright does not protect an idea itself, but only the form of expression of the idea.  The words and style each author uses to bring the plot to life are important.

In the Brokenwood example, the original creator had laid out the entire plot in sequence before the later author.  In those circumstances, there could have been sufficient detail for the plot outline to constitute a separately protectable copyright work, more than a mere idea.  This type of reasoning has been applied by the Courts in distinguishing fully realised television episode outlines from a mere show concept.

Copyright questions can be complicated.  For specialist advice (or a chat about Brokenwood), contact Virginia Nichols.

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