At the risk of a copyright infringement suit by AFP, here is an article of theirs (edited, transformative) about the movie Syriana:
PARIS (AFP) - The makers of the US geopolitical thriller movie "Syriana" denied in a Paris court a claim that they had stolen the idea from a French writer.
George Clooney' name production company Section Eight [was] sued by Stephanie Vergniault who claims "Syriana" is based on a script which she wrote in 2004.
She is claiming two million euros (2.55 million dollars) and 35 percent of receipts.
But lawyers for the film-makers told the court that the two works bore no similarity, and that filming of "Syriana" was already well advanced by the time they supposedly became aware of Vergniault's script. ... It opened in the United States in November.
The court is to rule in the plagiarism suit on June 19.
I am curious about the dual damages sought, especially the 35% of the receipts: that is a whopping figure and seems rather contrived: how could one say that 35% of the people who saw the movie did so based upon allegedly infringing material, and a script muchless. Perhaps the damages are unique to French law.
In the United States, there is a vigorous theory of apportionment, seen in the statutory language that awards only those profits of defendant or losses of plaintiff that are attributable to the infringement. In addition to the skill of Syriana's screenwriter (who also wrote Traffic) one might think a fair amount of the attraction of Syriana is attributable to the fame of George Clooney. In Learned Hand's second Sheldon opinion, 106 F.2d 45 (2d Cir.) , aff'd, 390 U.S. 390 (1939), apportionment was ordered where a play was found to have been infringed by a movie. Experts testified that much of the popularity of the movie was attributable to the stars, especially Joan Crawford and her dress by Adrian. Twenty percent of the profits were awarded, out of an "abundance of caution," with ten percent being the favored figure. The Ninth Circuit took the same approach in its "Rear Window" opinion, Abend v. MCA, Inc., 863 F.2d 1465 (9th Cir. 1988), aff'd, 495 U.S. 207 (1990), especially given the stars there, Grace Kelly and Jimmy Stewart and the fact that the Grace Kelly character did not appear in the infringed play. (And who could forget the opening shot in the movie of her?).
If there is infringement in the Syriana case, it will be interesting to see how such issues are handled.