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High Court Rules on Hollywood Screenplay Authorship Dispute

The creation of artistic works frequently involves collaboration – but to what extent do inspiration, general advice and assistance with research amount to authorship? The High Court tackled that thorny issue in the context of a dispute over the screenplay of a Hollywood movie.

The film, which achieved Oscar and BAFTA nominations, grossed about $44 million at the box office and its screenplay was credited to a single author. His ex-girlfriend, however, argued that she had jointly authored the piece and sought a share of his earnings from the project.

She argued that they had cooperated closely whilst in a loving relationship and that the screenplay owed a great deal to her practical assistance, inspiration and specialist knowledge of opera singing, a central theme of the film. The man, however, insisted that her contribution to the work was simply that of a supportive girlfriend.

In dismissing the ex-girlfriend’s claim and declaring that the man was the sole author of the screenplay, the Court ruled that the assistance she gave never rose above the level of providing useful jargon, helpful criticism and some minor plot suggestions. There was no doubt that the former couple had frequently discussed the project, but he was the final arbiter of the screenplay’s contents.

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