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Seen One Television Drama? You've Seen Them All - Copyright Ruling

All dramatic works draw on the common human condition and similarities between them, in terms of plotlines and the language used, are inevitable. The High Court made that point in rejecting a screenwriter's claim that her original works were copied by the broadcaster of a popular television series.

In asserting that the broadcaster had breached her confidentiality and infringed her copyright, the screenwriter claimed that a substantial part of her original works had been copied and used in two episodes of the series. She argued that the similarities were so striking that they could not be coincidental. The broadcaster denied her claim, insisting that it had never even had an opportunity to copy her works.

Ruling on the matter, the Court noted that all stories, including screenplays, derive their drama from certain basic themes which, according to one authority, are no more than seven in number. Dramatic tropes are limited by what drives the human condition and stories based on revenge, jealously or power are bound to share certain fundamental features with other similarly based stories. To succeed in her claim, the screenwriter had to show similarities that went beyond such tropes.

In entering summary judgment in the broadcaster's favour, the Court found that the alleged similarities between the screenwriter's works and the broadcast episodes were – in terms of storyline, detailed events on screen and use of language – incapable of giving rise to an arguable inference of copying.

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