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Trapped in a Copyright Maze? The Maze Runner manages a breakout

Source: Grill IP patent news

The-Maze-copyright-infringementThe Maze Runners are running free again, after a US District Court in New Mexico rejected claims for copyright infringements in a case brought by Tize Clark, author of The Maze, against the author and publisher of The Maze Runner, James Dashner and Random House LLC. Clark had claimed copyright infringement, unfair trade practices, and unfair competition on the part of the defendants. However, the court found that the similarities between protectable elements in the two works were not strong enough.

Clark had registered his copyright for The Maze in 2002, seven years before the publication of The Maze Runner, and twelve years before the release of a feature film of the same name. In his lawsuit, Clark claimed that central ideas of his story had been stolen, especially the central theme of a giant maze containing moving walls and robotic creatures. The defendants asked to dismiss the plaintiff’s action for the failure to state a claim, arguing that the similarities under review were commonplace motifs, and their protection unwarranted. The court agreed, dismissing Clark’s claims in two orders, addressing a motion to dismiss by Twentieth Century Fox, followed by those of Dashner and Random House. In comparing these works, the court determined that Clark’s accusations concerned unprotectable content and scenes a faire. In its decision, the court made mention of other stories, from Harry Potter to Greek mythological tales, to demonstrate the reappearance of maze scenarios that try the protagonist’s endurance. Biochemical monsters were regarded as another commonplace concept, frequently appearing in science fiction, dystopian novels, and horror stories.

The court determined that no “reasonable person” could deem The Maze and The Maze Runner alike beyond sharing generalized ideas. Both works were found to have different plots, themes, pace, mood, and – contrary to Clark’s claim – different characters, of which only “well-developed ones may enjoy copyright protection.”

The plaintiff maintained that the absence of royalties or credit for his work constitutes unfair trade practices and unfair competition under state and federal law. Regarding state law, the court viewed this argument as pre-empted, since the reproduction and distribution of copyrighted material are exclusive rights enshrined in the Copyright Act. In addition, Clark’s federal competition claim was judged a “reverse passing off” barred by the Supreme Court’s decision in Dastar v. Twentieth Century Fox. The 2003 case dealt with the applicability of the Lanham Act to public domain material. The Dastar decision defined “reverse passing off” as the passing off of others’ work as one’s own. By failing to credit the source of The Maze Runner’s inspiration, Clark asserts that his competitive advantage has been hindered, a charge distinct from copyright infringement. According to the court, these charges fall “within the exclusive purview of the federal copyright law,” rather than the Lanham Act, and were thus dismissed.

Without factual allegations, Clark’s lawsuit was found to lack substance. The similarities between The Maze Runner and The Maze have been judged too menial for a sentence against Dashner, Random House, or Twentieth Century Fox. With unprotectable claims and commonplace themes, the plaintiff’s case has little to run on. Let’s hope he doesn’t get trapped in a maze of his own making.

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