Disney, DreamWorks and others Sued by Writer Alleging Copyright Infringement

motion picture
Image Credit: © Kts | Dreamstime.com

Disney, DreamWorks, and others including author Margot Louise Watts have been sued by writer Joseph Nobile at the U.S. District Court Southern District of New York.  The writer claims that last year’s “The Light Between Oceans,” a romantic drama starring Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander, was plagiarized from a screenplay he wrote.

Defendant Margot Louise Watts (“Watts”), writing under the pseudonym M.L. Stedman, is the author of a novel entitled The Light Between Oceans (the “Novel”), which was published by defendant Simon & Schuster, Inc. (“Simon & Schuster”) in 2012. The Novel knowingly and willfully copied, plagiarized, pirated and misappropriated expressive content from Nobile’s Screenplay. In September 2016, defendant DreamWorks II Development Company, LLC (“DreamWorks”) theatrically released a motion picture (the “Film”) also entitled The Light Between Oceans, which was based on the Novel. Defendant The Walt Disney Company, through its Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures division (“Disney”), distributed the Film. Defendant Storyteller Holding Co., LLC, doing business as Amblin Partners (“Amblin”), is the successor-in-interest to DreamWorks.

Nobile’s claims that he wrote a screenplay called “The Rootcutter,” which he subsequently retitled “A Tale of Two Humans,” and copyrighted in 2004.

The film produced by DreamWorks and distributed by Disney based on Watts’ novel went on to gross $13 million domestically and $24 million worldwide. Nobile claims the parties infringed his copyright, and is asking to be compensated for damages he sustained while working on the film, as well as given all profits from the book and film that are “attributable to the infringement of his copyrighted screenplay.”

Below are the similarities identified in the complaint.

The Rootcutter The Light Between Oceans
(a). The Screenplay is set on a remote storm- swept island. The Novel and Film are set on a remote storm- swept island.
(b). The story takes place in the early twentieth century. The story takes place in the early twentieth century.
(c). At the core of the story is a desperate childless couple longing for a baby. At the core of the story is a desperate childless couple longing for a baby.
(d). The wife has had three stillbirths. In the Novel, the wife has had three miscarriages or stillbirths (two miscarriages and an ensuing stillbirth). In the Film, it is only two.
(e). The three stillborn fetuses are memorialized by three simple graves and three small wooden crosses. In the Novel, the three miscarried or stillborn fetuses are memorialized by three simple graves and three small wooden crosses. In the Film, there are only two graves and wooden crosses.
(f). The wife kneels and prays in front of the crosses The wife kneels and prays in front of the crosses.
(g). The last stillbirth coincides with a violent ocean storm and, after giving birth, the wife leaves a trail of blood on the floor. The last stillbirth coincides with a violent ocean storm and, after giving birt h, the wife leaves a trail of  blood on the floor.
(h). After the third stillbirth, the husband holds the silent, bloody baby and the wife says, “Let me hold him! I want to hold my baby!” In the Novel, after the third stillbirth, the husband holds the silent, bloody baby and the wife says, ” Give me my baby! Let me hold her!”
(i). After the third stillbirth, the husband says “I hate this place.” In the Novel, after the stillbirth, the wife says “I hate this place.”
(j).  Sensing their hopes for a child are doomed, the husband tells his wife, “When we get to the mainland, we’ll start a new life, just you and I.” In the Novel, sensing their hopes for a child are doomed, the husband tells his wife, “If it’s just you and me for the rest of our lives, that’s enough for me.”
(k). A small boat providentially washes ashore, containing a woman having a breech birth whose moans the husband hears. A small boat providentially washes ashore, containing a dead man and an infant whose cries the wife hears.
(I). The husband helps deliver the baby but the baby’s mother dies. He gives the baby to his wife, who is still lactating from her recent stillbirth and she is able to breastfeed the infant. The husband gives the baby to his wife, who is still lactating from her recent stillbirth and she is able to breastfeed the infant.
(m). The wife shows the husband the proper way to hold the infant. In the Novel, the wife shows the husband the proper way to hold the infant.
(n).  The husband convinces the wife to keep the baby and to pass him off as their own. The wife feels emotions of guilt, which help lead to tragedy. The wife convinces the husband to keep the baby and to pass her off as their own. The husband feels emotions of guilt, which help lead to tragedy.
(o). The reluctant wife tells her husband: ”This child has a father somewhere!”  and (referring to the dead woman), “Who is she? Where is she from?” and “She must have family.” In the Novel, the reluctant husband tells his wife: ”Then the baby’s probably got a mother waiting for it somewhere onshore,” and “Sweet he art, we don’t have any idea about the mother, or about who the man was,” and “What if the mother’s not dead, and he’ s got a wife fretting, waiting for them both?”
(p). The husband overcomes the wife’ s reluctance by saying, ”This was no accident He was destined for us.” In the Novel, the wife overcomes the husband’ s reluctance by saying he should “accept this gift that’ s been sent to us. How long have we wanted a baby, prayed for a baby?” In the Film, the wife tells the husband this “can’ t just be a coincidence that she showed up.”
(m). The wife shows the husband the proper way to hold the infant. In the Novel, the wife shows the husband the proper way to hold the infant.
(n).  The husband convinces the wife to keep the baby and to pass him off as their own. The wife feels emotions of guilt, which help lead to tragedy. The wife convinces the husband to keep the baby and to pass her off as their own. The husband feels emotions of guilt, which help lead to tragedy.
(o). The reluctant wife tells her husband: ”This child has a father somewhere!”  and (referring to the dead woman), “Who is she? Where is she from?” and “She must have family.” In the Novel, the reluctant husband tells his wife: ”Then the baby’s probably got a mother waiting for it somewhere onshore,” and “Sweet heart, we don’t have any idea about the mother, or about who the man was,” and “What if the mother’s not dead, and he’ s got a wife fretting, waiting for them both?”
(p). The husband overcomes the wife’ s reluctance by saying, ”This was no accident. He was destined for us.” In the Novel, the wife overcomes the husband’ s reluctance by saying he should “accept this gift that’ s been sent to us. How long have we wanted a baby, prayed for a baby?” In the Film, the wife tells the husband this “can’ t just be a coincidence that she showed up.”
(m). The wife shows the husband the proper way to hold the infant. In the Novel, the wife shows the husband the proper way to  hold the infant.
(n).  The husband convinces the wife to keep the baby and to pass him off as their own. The wife feels emotions of guilt, which help lead to tragedy. The wife convinces the husband to keep the baby and to pass her off as their own. The husband feels emotions of guilt, which help lead to tragedy.
(o). The reluctant wife tells her husband: ”This child has a father somewhere!”  and (referring to the dead woman), “Who is she? Where is she from?” and “She must have family.” In the Novel, the reluctant husband tells his wife: ”Then the baby’s probably got a mother waiting for it  somewhere onshore,” and “Sweet heart, we don’t have any idea about the mother, or about who the man was,” and “What if the mother’s not dead, and he’ s got a wife fretting, waiting for them both?”
(p). The husband overcomes the wife’ s reluctance by saying, ”This was no accident. He was destined for us.” In the Novel, the wife overcomes the husband’ s reluctance by saying he should “accept this gift that’ s been sent to us. How long have we wanted a baby, prayed for a baby?” In the Film, the wife tells the husband this “can’ t just be a coincidence that she showed up.”
(q).  After years of failed pregnancies, the wife has accumulated baby items needed to dress and care for their long-awaited   child. After years of failed pregnancies, the wife has accumulated baby items needed to dress and care for their long-awaited child.
(r). In order to conceal the provenance of the baby, the husband buries the corpse of the woman from the boat on the beach. In order to conceal the provenance of the baby, the husband buries the corpse of the man from the boat near the beach.
(s).  The guilt-ridden wife changes the subject

after a visitor tells her, “[The baby’s nose is so delicate.  It’s just like yours.

The guilt-ridden husband changes the subject after a friend tells him and his wife, “She’s got [the husband’s] nose. Hasn’t she?”
(t ). The husband has a dream that he is drowning. In the Novel, the husband has a dream that he is drowning.
(u). Threatened with the discovery of their charade, the husband retches violently by the road. As the discovery of their charade approaches, the wife retches violently in a bathroom on the mainland and, later, on the island when the police arrive.
{v). The husband comes under suspicion for murder when the buried corpse is unearthed. The husband comes under suspicion for murder when the buried corpse is unearthed.

Click here to view the Complaint

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
FILE A TRADEMARK
About Ufuoma Akpotaire 178 Articles
Ufuoma is a Senior Editor and Director of Regulatory Policy at NLIPW. She assists clients in the protection of copyrights, trademarks and patents. She counsels clients regarding validity and infringement matters and has experience acting against the infringement of IP and addressing counterfeit issues. She holds a Masters degree (LL.M.) from Columbia Law School, New York and a law degree from the University of Nigeria (LL.B. Honors). She is admitted to practice law in Nigeria and in the State of New York. Ufuoma cut her teeth in the intellectual property practice groups of some of the largest law firms in Nigeria and has years of experience working with major non-profit organizations in New York. Email: uakpotaire@nlipw.com