"Essentially the same story"

Steven Spielberg wins court battle over Rear Window copy claim

The film director Steven Spielberg has won his two-year legal battle against claims that his DreamWorks studio film Disturbia had stolen the plot from Alfred Hitchcock's classic Rear Window.

The claim had been brought by the Sheldon Abend Revocable Trust, which owns the film rights to Murder From a Fixed Viewpoint, the Cornell Woolrich short story upon which Hitchcock's classic thriller was based.

The two films were "essentially the same story," it alleged in its lawsuit against Spielberg, DreamWorks and Paramount Pictures.

Its case was bolstered by strikingly similar scenes, in particular almost identical shots where the lead characters look out from a window at a suspicious neighbour, one through a camera lens, the other through binoculars.

Hitchcock's 1954 film Rear Window tells the story of a convalescing photographer, played by James Stewart, who suspects his neighbour of murdering his wife after he sees him wielding a saw and lifting a large box into a car.

In the 2007 film, Disturbia, a high school student played by Shia LaBoeuf becomes suspicious of his neighbour as he watches him through binoculars while under house arrest for attacking a teacher.

But while Rear Window's simple plot, which won an Oscar nomination and praise as one of Hitchcock's best, wound to a simple ending of caught villain and happy-ever-after romance, Disturbia develops into a complicated all-action riot of sub-plots.

A US judge ruled that while the two films bore striking resemblances, Disturbia was a far more elaborate film and its similarities were too general to be a breach of copyright.

Acting as both judge and film critic, New York District Court judge Laura Taylor Swan gave her nomination to Disturbia. "The main plots are similar only at a high, unprotectable level of generality.

"Where Disturbia is rife with sub-plots, the short story has none. The setting and mood of the short story are static and tense, whereas the setting and mood of Disturbia are more dynamic and peppered with humour and teen romance," she ruled.

(Published by Telegraph - September 22, 2010)

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