Wednesday, February 03, 2016

How copyright law makes Star Wars homage, not theft

The fever over Star Wars: The Force Awakens has faded now (we haven't posted about it in over a month!), but there's still plenty to dissect about it. One of the greatest criticisms of the movie was its tendency to retread themes, imagery, and structure from the original film – ignoring that the first movies explicitly, famously stole from classic action serials and samurai movies.

Rather than turn this into a creativity blame game, the Re:Create Coalition, an intellectual copyright law advocacy group, used this as an opportunity to explain the limits of copyright and the difference between infringement and expression. For one specific example, author Jonathan Band cites the early Tatooine scenes from A New Hope by comparing them to sequences and imagery from John Ford's classic Western The Searchers. This isn't theft since it's building on the ideas of an existing work and expressing it in a new way.

That's a tricky distinction in copyright law for any filmmaker, and Star Wars is a great example of how that can be navigated creatively. Band's article is mostly a list of examples connecting Star Wars to previous films, but they make a strong point: ideas are meant to be adapted, not restricted.

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