Original: Rear Window (1954)
Like the A Fistful of Dollars vs Yojimbo case, the 2007 film Disturbia, directed by D.J. Caruso and starring Shia LaBeouf, landed in hot water and ultimately a lawsuit, however this case was a little more complicated. Despite its similarities to Alfred Hitchcocks classic, Rear Window, it was for its similarities to the original 1942 short story, It Had to be Murder, by Cornell Woolrich for which it got in trouble.
Firstly, the similarities. Each film concerns the suspicions and paranoia of a housebound central protagonist, Shia LaBeouf in Disturbia and James Stewart in Rear Window. Each, from their housebound abode, start to play detective when they begin to believe murder is afoot. Whilst plot details may differ (the amount of murders, supporting characters etc.), the central conceit and themes of each are undeniably similar, hence the lawsuit.
So why is this case more complicated?
Well it wasnt Hitchcock or his estate or the studios behind Rear Window that was doing the suing. In 1942 Woolrichs story was published in Dime Detective Magazine. Three years later Woolrich sold the movie rights to a production company and agreed to renew the rights when the 28-year copyright expired. In 1953 Hitchcock and Stewarts production company Patron Inc. bought these rights for $10,000 and made Rear Window. In 1968 Woolrich died before said rights were renewed and control of the rights then passed to his bank who subsequently sold them to literary agent Sheldon Abend. Abend refused to honour Woolrichs agreement to renew the copyright and assign it to the owners of the movie rights, resulting in the 1990 lawsuit, Stewart vs Abend. Consequently Abend retained control.
Stick with us.
When Disturbia was released Abends trust sued Steven Spielberg and his company Dreamworks (distributors of Disturbia), Viacom and Universal Studios as the film was made without ownership of the intellectual property. Ultimately the case was thrown out with the court stating:
"Their similarities derive entirely from unprotectible elements and the total look and feel of the works is so distinct that no reasonable trier of fact could find the works substantially similar within the meaning of copyright law."As of 2010 the Abend Trust is suing Hitchcocks estate for breach of contract, as it didnt uphold agreements made in the 1990 lawsuit to restrict use of Woolrichs initial idea. Clear?