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Thompson copyright wrangle takes centre stage

9 February 2011

Media reports this week state that Emma Thompson is facing a copyright claim over her new film project “Effie”

The allegations have apparently been made by playwright Gregory Murphy, author of the play “The Countess”, which deals with the same subject matter. Thompson has now sought a declaration in a New York federal court that the script does not infringe Murphy’s copyright.

The story is a useful reminder that, both in the UK and the US, copyright does not protect ideas, but rather the expression of ideas. That does not necessarily mean copyright infringement must be textual (see Ravenscroft v Herbert where the substantial copying of incident, plot and characterisation was held to constitute infringement). However, copyright does not protect a general idea, or perhaps even a detailed ‘theme’ (see Baigent and Leigh v The Random House Group Ltd, a case relating to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code).

Certainly, Murphy will need to show much more than the copying of a general storyline to make out a claim for copyright infringement.

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