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Infamously, when the Fight Club was released, Rosie O'Donnell spoiled a huge plot point on her popular show. The movie hinges tremendously on the spoiler, and Rosie probably damaged the experience for many people.

But say that's small peanuts. Let's say there's an extremely spoiler-prone movie called "The Plot", and the moment it comes out, a huge news agency called XYZ just spoils the movie wholesale, ruining it for tens of millions of people and probably causing a bunch of them to not bother going to watch the movie. The makers of "The Plot" have suffered tremendous financial damages, and let's even say that XYZ was maliciously spoiling the movie because they hate the makers of "The Plot", or hate the movie and what it stands for, or what have you.

Do the makers of "The Plot" have any reasonable legal action they can take against XYZ? Or is XYZ just completely protected due to Free Speech? On one hand, I see the free speech argument, but on the other hand, this seems to bleed more towards things like defamation, where actual financial damage is being caused due to the speech.

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  • What exactly would have leaked? The whole scenario? A summary? Mar 18 at 17:12
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    @NicolasFormichella Unless they leaked the actual copyrighted film or script, it doesn't really matter. Factual descriptions of art are pretty obviously protected speech.
    – bdb484
    Mar 18 at 17:15

2 Answers 2

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Commentary and Critique are Quintessential Fair Use

If your commentary and critique of describing a book you read or a movie you watched makes that book or movie undesirable to the broad public, that does not change that it is still valid commentary and critique. It is well tested in courts that critique may not just diminish a market, it may utterly destroy any market. Fisher v. Dees, 794 F.2d 432 (9th Cir. 1986):

Accordingly, the economic effect of a parody with which we are concerned is not its potential to destroy or diminish the market for the original--any bad review can have that effect--but rather whether it fulfills the demand for the original. Biting criticism suppresses demand; copyright infringement usurps it. Thus, infringement occurs when a parody supplants the original in markets the original is aimed at, or in which the original is, or has reasonable potential to become, commercially valuable. See, e.g., Air Pirates, 581 F.2d at 756; Berlin v. E.C. Publications, Inc., 329 F.2d 541, 545 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 379 U.S. 822, 85 S. Ct. 46, 13 L. Ed. 2d 33 (1964); Parody Defense, supra, at 1409-11.

Damaging, suppressing, or diminishing the market is allowed. Usurping it is not. Commentary and Critique never usurp the market, as there is no market for them, as Campbell, 510 U.S. 569, 592 explains:

We do not, of course, suggest that a parody may not harm the market at all, but when a lethal parody, like a scathing theater review, kills demand for the original, it does not produce a harm cognizable under the Copyright Act. Because "parody may quite legitimately aim at garroting the original, destroying it commercially as well as artistically," B. Kaplan, An Unhurried View of Copyright 69 (1967), the role of the courts is to distinguish between "[b]iting criticism [that merely] suppresses demand [and] copyright infringemente, which] usurps it." Fisher v. Dees, 794 F. 2d, at 438.

This distinction between potentially remediable displacement and unremediable disparagement is reflected in the rule that there is no protectible derivative market for criticism. The market for potential derivative uses includes only those that creators of original works would in general develop or license others to develop. Yet the unlikelihood that creators of imaginative works will license critical reviews or lampoons of their own productions removes such uses from the very notion of a potential licensing market. "People ask ... for criticism, but they only want praise." S. Maugham, Of Human Bondage 241 (Penguin ed. 1992). Thus, to the extent that the opinion below may be read to have considered harm to the market for parodies of "Oh, Pretty Woman," see 972 F. 2d, at 1439, the court erred. Accord, Fisher v. Dees, supra, at 437; Leva11125; Patry & Perlmutter 688-691.22

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If I hate you, I can “ruin” you

Providing I stay within the law.

I can tell your friends and family any dark little secrets of yours that I know, your affairs, your drinking habits, your arrangements with your accountant to minimise your tax. So long as it’s all true, I’m completely protected by the law.

I can also tell everyone the plot of your movie providing I learned that plot in a lawful way (such as by seeing it in a cinema) and providing I don’t breach its copyright. Character names and the broad brush outline of the plot - a man hits himself in the face multiple times and he’s not supposed to talk about it - are not protected by copyright.

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