If I develop a screenplay/script to a movie, and my friend took my script/screenplay and actually made a movie out of it, without my permission, and if he made money from the movie, what do Jewish laws say that could help me prove that I am the rightful owner of the script and should be paid by my friend?
Question:If I made up a script to a movie and my friend took the script
and actually made a movie out of it, without my permission, and made
money from it, what are the Jewish Laws that prove I am the rightful
owner of the script and should get money from my friend.
A claim of ownership must be substantiated. Please note the following list of actions that may be utilized to assert ownership.
The claimant may show proof that documents demonstrate ownership
There are people that would testify to the validity of the author or owner.
Computer data discloses the real owner.
A time frame showing ownership predating the period of the friend’s claimed date of ownership is noted.
In terms of compensation, the following rule should serve as a guide.
Jewish law is unique In that a thief who subsequently enhanced the value of an item stolen is not obligated to repay the current increased value but only the value of the item at the time of the theft. (Bava Kamma 93b-94a)
Accordingly,anyone who, without permission, took someone’s script and made it into a movie would only be financially responsible to repay the owner or author of the script the value of a script and not the enhanced value of the movie.Of course, a script written for possible usage for a movie may have to be assessed as to the going market rate for such a script.
The issue you are raising is one of ‘intellectual property.’ In American civil law, this is a serious area of concern that has its own set of rules and definitions. Under intellectual property law, “owners are granted certain exclusive rights to a variety of intangible assets, such as musical, literary, and artistic works; discoveries and inventions; and words, phrases, symbols, and designs.”
Whether or not such a concept exists in Jewish law is beyond the purview of most pulpit rabbis. Such a question should probably be addressed to a Talmudic scholar. Such questions are more likely to be addressed in a court of law rather than in the Beit Midrash.
That being said, I believe that we do have certain moral concepts in Judaism which might have some relevance in addressing such an issue. The sages speak of g’nevat hada’at, literally, misleading others or the stealing of knowledge. Rabbi Alan Yuter, a member of the Union for Traditional Judaism, writes: “While it may be legitimately argued that the Oral Torah records no such norm, avoiding purloining intellectual property may be an act of piety.” While Rabbi Yuter stops short of declaring this a law for the Jewish people, he senses that it just isn’t right.
Similarly, we find the commandment in the Torah, “You shall not steal; you shall not deal deceitfully or falsely with one another.” (Leviticus 19:11) I believe that the Torah is speaking about something more than the theft of material objects or expressing falsehoods. Intellectual property might be said to fall somewhere in between these two categories. To use someone else’s material is certainly a form of falsehood. Even in matters of Torah study, we are expected to give full credit to the person from whom we borrowed an idea; to do so is, “to bring redemption to the world.” This implies that if I borrow someone else’s teachings and quote them without giving the person full credit, I am in fact condemning the world to a state of non-redemption.
I can think of one interesting precedent for intellectual property in Jewish law. In the nineteenth century many Jewish books began with a warning to others not to republish the works within a defined period of time. Apparently the rabbis, who were unlikely to go to a civil court of law, understood that their works had some economic value and prohibited others from publishing new editions of their work.
In the end, citing chapter and verse may not be very helpful in cases of intellectual property from the vantage point of Jewish law. It seems quite clear to me, however, that stealing someone else’s intellectual property is treif. This is more a matter of common sense than halachah. From a moral and ethical point of view I believe that one can make a strong argument that using someone else’s material, particularly where there is economic gain, is just another form of theft, intellectual or otherwise.
As I understand the issue, there is a difference between Jewish and secular (US) law in this situation. In secular law, there is a concept called ‘intellectual property’ where one can own and protect the original idea or concept for something for a period of time. Other users are obliged to compensate the originator. Versions of this approach are seen in patents, copyrights, and trademarks.
This is not a feature of Jewish law, which requires (generally) that something must be tangible, in existence physically, or represent a specific ascertainable value, in order to be subject to ‘taking’. One can ‘take’ or appropriate real property, personal property (goods), money, and objects – but ideas do not fall into this category.
Jewish law holds that ideas are not owned; once expressed, they have a life of their own, and are available for use by anyone else. According to Jewish law, we do have a moral obligation to acknowledge the source of the idea, but the originator does not have exclusive rights to use it. These acknowledgments are seen in the form of rabbinic discussions in the Talmud, where the ideas are attributed by phrases such as: ‘in the name of Rabbi X’, ‘as taught by so-and-so’, ‘the words of Rabbi Y, as told by Rabbi Z’, and so forth. Where the originator of the idea is not known, we see such phrases used as: ‘as our teachers taught’, ‘as we learn from Torah’.
Because the content of the script/screenplay is an idea or concept, Jewish law would not see this as a taking. It would certainly agree that the taking of the physical object, the pages of the screenplay, could be taken, but the value of the paper would not be very great, and a Jewish court might award you the cost of a ream of paper.
The better argument to be made would be in the area that you had implicitly entered into a partnership agreement with your friend, and what you were seeking was not the value of the concept or idea, but your portion of the earnings acquired by the partnership, following your investment of time and effort to bring it about. This is, however, a completely different argument than the one you asked about.
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