“Disturbia” Not Substantially Similar to “Rear Window”

Originally published on September 22, 2010 on EntertainmentLitigation.com

Steven Spielberg and others were sued for copyright infringement by the owner of the copyright in Rear Window, a short story written in 1942 by Cornell Woolrich which was later adapted for film in a motion picture published in 1954 under the same title which was directed by Alfred Hitchcock.  The lawsuit alleged that Disturbia, directed by Spielberg, copied substantial portions of Rear Window.  Spielberg moved for summary judgment on the grounds that the two works were not substantially similar.  Judge Laura Swain, Southern District of New York, thoroughly analyzed the competing works and determined that although the works contained some similarities at a general, abstract level, “[t]heir 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.”  The court granted Spielberg’s motion, disposing of the case.  Based on the description of the works recited in Judge Swain’s opinion, there is no question that the protectable elements of the two works are not substantially similar to one another.   The opinion is well worth reading, particularly for those who are inclined to believe that similar ideas can form the basis of a valid infringement claims.