Christoffer v Poseidon Film Distributors Ltd
Reference:  ECDR 487
Court: Chancery Division
Judge: Park J
Date of judgment: 6 Oct 1999
Intellectual property - copyright – copying - injunctive relief
Instructing Solicitors: Menneers for the Claimant
The claimant wrote a script for a short animated film version of the story of the Cyclops from Homer’s Odyssey which he left with the defendant, a film production company, to consider whether it wanted to make the film. Without the claimant’s knowledge or consent the defendant made a television film from a screenplay adapted from the claimant’s script and agreed to supply it to a television company. When the claimant claimed an injunction and damages against the defendant, it alleged that one of the payments, namely £500, it had made to the claimant for other scripts he had produced for it was payment for his copyright in the script, that in any event the script was not protected by copyright because it was not an original literary work, being copied either from Homer’s work itself or from a children’s book and that in making the film it had not copied any or any substantial part of the claimant’s script.
Whether a script written by the claimant for an animated film version of an episode from Homer’s Odyssey was an original literary work which was entitled to copyright protection and whether an animated film based on a screenplay which was adapted from that script infringed the claimant’s copyright.
The claimant’s script was an original literary work even though it was based on the story by Homer; it was different in form and detail to Homer’s work. The claimant had not copied it from the children’s book. The reworking by a modern writer of an old story did not prevent the new work being “original” within the meaning of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988. All the payments the defendant had made to the claimant were in respect of other scripts and not the Cyclops script. The defendant had infringed the claimant’s copyright. Copying a literary work included taking the content of the work or a substantial part of it and reproducing it in another.
The case demonstrates firstly that the reworking of an old story can be sufficiently “original” to be protected by copyright and secondly that a film based on an original script will infringe the copyright in that script even if the film in its final form differs substantially from it.