Oscar nominee accused of intellectual property theft

Oscar season is approaching, and many in New York were delighted to hear that Guillermo del Toro's historical fantasy "The Shape of Water" garnered 13 nominations, more than any other film this year. The lushly produced movie tells the story of a mute cleaning woman who falls in love with a magical creature that the government captured from the waters of the Amazon. While audiences may have been spellbound by the tale, the son of a legendary playwright and young adult novelist Paul Zindel claims the screenplay is a theft of his father's intellectual property.

In particular, Zindel's play "Let Me Hear You Whisper" tells a very similar story to the Oscar nominated movie. In the play, a female janitor develops a romantic relationship with a captive dolphin. Both the creature in the play and the one in the movie are prisoners of the government, both women characters befriend the creatures using food, and both creatures are smuggled from their respective labs in laundry carts to save them from exploratory vivisections.

There are other similarities, including supporting characters and a scene where the female leads entertain the creatures by dancing with a mop. Despite the accusations of the Zindel family, del Torro denies he plagiarized "Let Me Hear Your Whisper." At this point, it is not clear whether the Zindel estate has plans to take del Torro to court.

An author or artist may not realize where his or her influences come from. However, this situation is evidence of the importance of copyright law since del Torro's movie stands to earn substantial income from its success. The protection of one's intellectual property is not always easy, but the assistance of a New York attorney can help an artist ensure he or she maintains the rights and benefits of a created work.

Source: Rolling Stone, "'Shape of Water' Hit With Plagiarism Allegations", Joyce Chen, Jan. 26, 2018

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