I put this in CS because I think the more literary audience might be able to point me toward the answer.
Supposedly a court in California dismissed a plagiarism suit on the grounds that there are only 7/14/16/20/36 basic plots, so similarities in plots don’t necessarily prove plagiarism.
Does anyone know:
a) if this is true
b) the details of the case
c) whether the court actually identified what are the “basic plots”
My Google-fu isn’t working for this one.
Our Perfect Master did do a column on the idea of there being a finite number of plots, but did not mention any relevant court cases.
I’ve never heard of such a case myself, but mere similarity of plot has never been considered copyright violation. (The term “plagiarism” is I think used primarily for academic violations, not legal ones.) An idea or theme can’t be copyrighted. A particular expression of an idea can be, so cases where whole passages have been lifted nearly verbatim from the original text (as with the book How Opal Mehta Got Kissed…) are definitely violations. Otherwise there must be such a “striking similarity” between the two works that it can’t be attributed to mere coincidence. I’m not a copyright lawyer so I don’t know exactly what would be involved in proving this, but it would involve more than just showing the stories followed the same general plot. There’d have to be specific and unusual incidents, characters, or descriptions that were the same or nearly the same in both works.
That’s about all I know on the subject, but we have several writers and lawyers on the boards so someone else probably can tell you more.