I’m a Biography – Get Me Out of There?!

16-12-2011 09:36

In the recent case of Hodgson & Another v Isaac & Another [2010] EWPCC 37, the court was asked to consider whether a screenplay infringed the copyright of a pre-existing biographical work.

The Claimant, Paul Hodgson, wrote his autobiography to challenge the stereotype of the wheelchair bound victim, which was published under the title ‘Flippers Side’ in 2000. The book recounts his trials and tribulations of life as a Darlington Town FC supporter, as well as his school experiences and family relationships. 

The First Defendant met the First Claimant as part of a project to write a screenplay about the life of the First Claimant.  The Claimants alleged that the Defendant, a screen writer, had copied many ideas from the book in his screenplay, “Down Among the Dead Men”, and that it was therefore an adaptation of the original literary work, the autobiography, which is subject to copyright protection.

The Defendant, although admitting that he possessed a copy of the book, denied ever having read it, and maintained that any similarities between the screenplay and the book were as a result of previous conversations between the claimant and defendant; a notion that the claimant strenuously denied.

Having read both the book and the screenplay, he first sought to establish whether the screenplay copied material from the claimant’s book. He found that there were incidents that could have only been sourced from the original book, focusing on the fact that both the book and screenplay commence with the very same football chant.

Whist it is clear that almost none of the text was an exact replication of the book, upon consideration the Judge estimated that approximately half of the dramatic incidents in the script derive from the claimants autobiography. For a copyright infringement to exist, it must not only be found that the work has been copied, but also that it was a substantial element of the work.

The judge had regard of the number of specific and striking incidents from the book, as well as the identical interpretation of these events, to decide that the screenplay copied substantially from the claimant’s book. The court therefore found for the claimant.

If you would like any more information on this subject, please contact Emma Hayward.

 

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