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‘The Shape of Water’: Could its Oscars fate be altered by the plagiarism lawsuit?

‘The Shape of Water’: Could its Oscars fate be altered by the plagiarism lawsuit?

‘The Shape of Water’: Could its Oscars fate be altered by the plagiarism lawsuit?
February 28
08:45 2018

Word of the day: Plagiarism.

Mere days before Hollywood’s biggest night, a lawsuit has been filed alleging that the plot of Oscar front runner “The Shape of Water” is a little too similar to the plot of a 1969 play by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Paul Zindel.

The acclaimed fantasy film, which was directed and co-written by Guillermo del Toro, and received 13 Academy Award nominations, involves a shy cleaning woman who works in a top-secret laboratory in the 1960s and falls for a sea creature (part-man and part-fish) that she communicates with and tries to rescue.

Not exactly a conventional love story.

Similarities abound

In Zindel’s play “Let Me Hear You Whisper,” a shy female janitor who works in a top secret laboratory in the 1960s, develops a bond with a dolphin that she communicates with and tries to rescue.

Like another Zindel work, “The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds,” for which Zindel received a Pulitzer, “Let Me Hear You Whisper” was turned into a movie. (“Marigolds” became a feature film starring Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. “Whisper” was a TV movie, starring Anthony Holland, Ruth White and Elizabeth Wilson.)

The Zindel estate filed the lawsuit last week, by attorney Marc Toberoff, who, years ago, sued Warner Bros. on behalf of Superman creators Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel. The suit names, among others, del Toro, producer Daniel Kraus and the film’s distributor Fox Searchlight.

For the film, timing couldn’t be worse

And, yes, the suit was filed in time to affect Oscar voting. Since the filing, del Toro has claimed that neither he, Kraus, nor his co-writer Vanessa Taylor have heard of Zindel’s play or seen it.

In a statement, the studio said, “These claims from Mr. Zindel’s estate are baseless, wholly without merit and we will be filing a motion to dismiss. Furthermore, the estate’s complaint seems timed to coincide with the Academy Award voting cycle in order to pressure our studio to quickly settle. Instead, we will vigorously defend ourselves and, by extension, this groundbreaking and original film.”

Melania Trump

Plagiarism comes in many forms and may result in huge cash settlements or, in the case of Melania Trump, some ribbing on late-night comedy shows.

Mrs. Trump’s speech at the 2016 Republican National Convention sounded a bit too much like Michelle Obama’s speech at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. No charges were filed, but plenty of jokes were made. (Even her husband joked about it.)

Robin Thicke and Pharrell

In 2015, Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams, co-writers of Thicke’s 2013 hit song “Blurred Lines” were ordered to pay $7.3 million to the family of Marvin Gaye, for “borrowing” a little too much from Gaye’s 1977 song “Got to Give It Up.”

George Harrison

In 1971, George Harrison was sued by Bright Tunes Music, on behalf of the late Ronnie Mack, over the ex-Beatle’s song “My Sweet Lord” which, the suit alleged, sounded way too much like  “He’s So Fine,” the big, early 60’s hit recorded by The Chiffons and written by Mack. Harrison admitted that he may have lifted the melody “subconsciously.” He also lost the case.

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J.K. Rowling, Joe Biden and…Dr. King?

Two bestselling authors, J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter’s creator) and Dan Brown (“The DaVinci Code”) have been sued for lifting plot lines and certain details from other works. The cited plots and other material was, indeed, quite similar, but the cases were dismissed.

Barack Obama and Joe Biden were both accused of plagiarism following speeches that sounded a little too similar to those of others. This happens fairly frequently in politics, but it is believed that a 1988 speech by Biden that contained passages from a speech given by British Labor party leader Neil Kinnock cost him his party’s presidential nomination.

Other famous folks accused of plagiarism: Johnny Cash, Jane Goodall and Helen Keller as well as Dr. Martin Luther King famed poet T.S. Eliot. The accusations against King and Eliot were made after their deaths.

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Martin Nethercutt

Martin Nethercutt

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