20

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?

  • 7
    Don't you think that depends first on what exactly you mean by "the entire plot of the film" or "just a conversion to textual form"? There's a huge difference between the plot and the whole story, the story and the dialogue, before you start "retelling completely" all the stage directions and scene changes. If you really did novelise an entire film, you might just claim purposes of study or review if you interspersed great long passages of comment… At the end of the day, how much screen-space or reading time is this tome meant to take up? – Robbie Goodwin May 6 at 15:07
  • Related, but not quite the same - I wonder what the blinkenlights telnet ASCIImation of Star Wars falls under ... – brhans May 6 at 15:10
33

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.

| improve this answer | |
  • 21
    Out of curiosity, how detailed does the novelization need to be? I doubt that the plot summary of a movie on Wikipedia counts as "film novelization" and infringes on someone's copyright. – MechMK1 May 6 at 10:36
  • 3
    @QuoraFeans Seems to me as if the Star Wars novelizations were used as an example of novelization. I think another important aspect is how recent the copyrighted material is, how much financial loss the copyright holder expects over the existance of the work, and how much of a reputation loss the company has to expect over suing someone. I imagine Lucasfilm suing a 14 year old boy over writing "The Adventures of Luke Skywalker" on his blog (do kids these days have blogs?) is bad optics. – MechMK1 May 6 at 11:23
  • 8
    @QuoraFeans: Film novelization; I will clarify. The Star Wars novelizations are compliant, but that because they were created under license. – sharur May 6 at 14:33
  • 2
    @Zibbobz : OP plans to post on Facebook, so this is not "aren't publishing it anywhere". Also, the right under control is copying, not "making money from" -- noncommercial copying is still copying. – Eric Towers May 7 at 3:55
  • 3
    @MechMK1: Fine, fine: ~268 MiUSD and ~3 GiUSD. – Nat May 7 at 9:41
21

As an attorney with experience in copyright, I do not disagree with sharur's answer but find that it lacks some important considerations.

The issue

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 is 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.

Bottom line

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.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    That it's 'facebook' is the question imo. What would've happened if they had posted that Lexicon on Wiki with the long quotes (for free), instead of Facebook (for 'money')? – Mazura May 7 at 2:25
  • 4
    This wins in the nomination "The most useful answer that doesn't even attempt to answer the question". – Greendrake May 7 at 15:02
8

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.

| improve this answer | |
  • 4
    This would be the correct answer had the OP asked about putting together a brief summary of the main plot. However, if they retell the story "completely", and achieve something that can be substituted for the fun of watching the film, then they risk being seen as a competitor rather than promoter of the film and copyright will be the main legal weapon used by the studio against them. – Jirka Hanika May 6 at 15:26
  • 4
    If you can find a case where a recap was successfully sued because it "substituted for the fun of watching the film," then you might have a point. There are no such cases. The exact words the OP says is "I create a post where I retell the film plot in my own words." That is a recap, which is done thousands of times a day all over the world, and it is perfectly legal. It does not have to be a brief summary, either. – Mohair May 6 at 15:50
  • 3
    Mohair, please describe the distance between a novelisation and a recap (in terms of the content). – Lamar Latrell May 6 at 18:43
  • 3
    @Barmar : But does the OP plan to write a 70000 words long novel, as a Facebook post? – vsz May 6 at 21:00
  • 3
    @Mohair - The question is currently phrased as a pure hypothetical. Perhaps I'm reading their "completely" too literally because they also mention a single visit to the cinema. – Jirka Hanika May 7 at 6:43
3

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.

| improve this answer | |
  • So this is similar to the heap paradox... you remove sand grains one grain at a time from a heap of sand, when does it stop being a heap? Similarly, where do you draw the line between derivative work and summary? If a 1000 word summary is acceptable, then is a 1001 word summary suddenly not acceptable? Where is the line below which it's a summary, and above it a copyright infringement? – vsz May 8 at 11:13
  • @vsz I don't know which paradox I am using, but the line is not at 1001 words, neither at 29.999 lines. Besides, I don't know how many words the average line has, depending on the language. Mr. H. used to write in an old greek dialect with 6 jambes per line Icorrect jargon?) – Roland May 8 at 17:13
  • My point was, that on one extreme, there is a short plot summary like on wikipedia, which I'm sure everyone accepts as legal. And on the other extreme is a full novelization, which is definitely copyright infringement. But between those two extremes there is somewhere a grey area where it's impossible to tell to any certainty where it belongs. – vsz May 8 at 17:52
  • @vsz Ok, on the other hand the original question seems to mention both extreme sides and not the large grey area in between – Roland May 11 at 9:09

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.