Let's say I watched a film and I really liked it. Now I want to tell my subscribers on Facebook the entire plot of the film. I don't use the real script of the film. I create a post where I retell the film plot in my own words (but I don't change anything, the names are the same, everything is the same, it's just a conversion in textual form) and retell it completely. Is this action legal? Do I have any problems with copyright law?
This is known as "film novelization"(For example, the novelizations of the Star Wars movies are film novelizations, created under license), and is copyright infringement unless made under a license from the copyright holder.
Specifically, you would be making a derivative work of the original, by changing the medium. One of the rights provided by copyright is the right to control the transference from one medium into another.
This, in my (non-lawyer) opinion, is unlikely to be found as fair use. There are four test factors for determining fair use(source), decided on a case by case basis:
Transformative Character of the Derivative Work: Unlikely to be found in your favor, as nothing is transformed ("I don't change anything, the name are the same, everything is the same, it's just a conversion to textual form").
Nature of the Original Work: A narrative entertainment film, thus unlikely to be found in your favor.
Amount and Substantiality of the Portion Taken: You've taken all of it; not in your favor.
Effect on the Potential Market: You are essentially providing a free version of what copyright holders can often charge for; negative effect on their potential market. Not in your favor.
As an attorney with experience in copyright, I do not disagree with sharur's answer but find that it lacks some important considerations.
To make sure we're clear, this is the question I'm discussing: Can I retell, in my own words, a film's plot via social media?
What to Consider
- Legal analysis involves looking at relevant law, applying that law to the facts, and making what is often an unsatisfying and subjective determination. In other words, two courts given the same law and the same facts, can and do come to opposite conclusions.
- Newspapers and websites are full of book and movie reviews that summarize plot and characters. Under fair use, copyright law specifically allows for commentary and criticism of works without the permission of the copyright owner.
- There is a distinction between ideas and expression of those ideas. Copyright does not protect the idea but does protect the expression of the idea. For example, the idea to include a bank robbery in a film is not protected but the expression of that idea in a specific situation could be protected.
- The scènes à faire doctrine states that customary elements of a genre cannot be protected. For example, since it is practically obligatory in a sci-fi movie to have an alien, that element cannot be protected by copyright.
- The merger doctrine allows that when there are only a limited number of ways to say something, it can't be protected. For example, you can only say that it is sunny in so many ways. The idea of it being sunny and the expression, such as "it is sunny," merge and are not protected by copyright.
- Facts are not protected by copyright because they are not original. For example, saying that "Robert John Downey Jr. played a superhero in Iron Man" is a factual statement that is not protected.
- In a case of a fan-created encyclopedia of Harry Potter books, the judge noted that "Reference works that [...] [aid] readers of literature generally should be encouraged rather than stifled." The fan lost the lawsuit because of long quotes from the books. Once those were removed, the fan published the encyclopedia (i.e., "Lexicon") for profit.
- And, of course, consider the elements of fair use as discussed by sharur.
This is not legal advice. If your question is part of a business, I would definitely hire a lawyer to provide detailed advice.
There is a lot more wiggle room than people often assume under copyright. If you are well-meaning, enhance the value of the original work, and avoid long quotes, a judge is likely to like you a lot more.
What you are describing very likely falls under what is called "fair use" and it is perfectly legal. In the U.S. there are four factors to consider, which you can find in the wikipedia article. Rest assured that a posting to Facebook retelling the story in your own words, inevitably with some commentary or criticism added, will certainly pass the test.
sharur's answer is ridiculous and completely wrong. Under no circumstances could what you are doing be considered a "novelization." You are doing what is known as a "recap." Recaps are done on non-profit and for-profit sites all the time for movies and TV shows. There are millions of them out there. Here's a Clone Wars recap from two days ago on a for-profit site. And another one for the same show, different for-profit site.
Let's say I read a book and I very liked it. Now I want to show all guests of my theatre the entire plot of the book. I don't just read the book aloud. I create a movie or play where I show the entire book plot visually with my own pictures and scenes (but I don't change anything, the names are the same, everything is the same, it's just a conversion to visual form) and retell it completely.
You will undoubtedly have heard about movie studio's negotiating with book authors for permission to use the book, and about large sums that may have to be paid.
Suppose you are the one who wrote that book. You have skills ant talents, perhaps a professional education, and spent a lot of time and work in writing that book. While writing, you would need to pay for a home, food, clothing, may be a family, medical costs, save for retirement, and so on.
Would it be fair if Disney or Sony or whoever would turn your book into a movie and potentially earn millions of bucks without paying you anything?
Therefore, in a civilized society, we have laws that gives each one particular rights, such as copyrights.
Yes, the laws aren't perfect, and clever guys find loopholes to steal other's work under 'fair use', but your case where you use 'everything' and changes 'anything' looks like the textbook example for copyright.
Note however, that there is an important difference between 'completely retell in text' (question title) and 'tell the entire plot' (question text). You will not be able to retell the entire movie in text, as many aspects of a film rely on color, mimic, movements, backgrounds, camera positions, sharp and blurr images, and so on. Just the plot will not convey the entire movie, it will be just the plot. So if you were able to do a 'conversion of movie to text', it will infringe copyright. For example, if Homer would have converted two Hollywood movies into a best selling 30 thousand line text (over 1000 pages, needing two book volumes), truly completely retelling the movie in text.
But if you 'just' write down the plot of a 90 minute movie into 1000 words, it is only a miserly summary that will not at all threaten the commercial value of the original work.