The second Amistad case: 'Outright Plagiarism'
or 'Who Owns History?'
Chase-Riboud claims she first approached Dreamworks
at the beginning of December 1996, when she heard about the Amistad
film project. She was concerned that the film project sounded too similar
to her book. She claims that the studio "stonewalled" her for ten months.
Chase-Riboud v. Dreamworks, Inc., 1998
On October 18, 1997, Barbara
Chase-Riboud, a Kafka Award and Carl Sandburg-award winning sculptor, poet,
and author, filed suit in United States District Court for the Central
District of California, in Los Angeles. In her complaint, she alleged copyright
infringement -- essentially, that the studio copied original "scenes, characters,
and plot devices" from her book, Echo
of Lions. Chase-Riboud is seeking $10 million in damages and a permanent
injunction against the release of the film.
On November 10, Chase-Riboud's
attorney, John Shaeffer, filed a motion requesting a video of the movie
and a copy of the final script. Later that week, she attended a foreign-press
screening of the film in New York and noticed that many of the similarities
she had noticed from an early draft of the script had been edited out.
On November 17, Chase-Riboud's
attorney filed for a preliminary injunction to block Amistad's December
12 national release date (as well as the December 10th limited release
date). That same day a Dreamworks spokesperson was quoted in USA Today
as saying the suit wouldn't affect the release date and announcing that
President Bill Clinton would attend the film's premiere in Washington,
D.C. on December 4.
Immediately following the
filing of the motion, the two sides fought for two weeks over the scheduling
of the hearing. Chase-Riboud's attorneys felt she would suffer irreparable
harm if the hearing was not held before Amistad debuted nationwide, and
proposed Monday, December 8; Dreamworks argued that the hearing should
be held after the nationwide debut, and proposed Monday, December 15. During
this time, the court also granted Chase-Riboud's request for a final script
and tape. On November 29, the court announced that the hearing on the preliminary
injunction was set for Monday, December 8, just two days before the limited
release. If the motion is successful, Chase-Riboud could have the release
postponed until the case is resolved. Dreamworks claims it would lose $75
million if the preliminary injunction motion succeeds.
On Monday, December 8th,
the U.S. district court for the Central District of California denied Barbara
Chase-Riboud's motion for a preliminary injunction against the opening
of Amistad, the film. As a result of this ruling, Amistad opened
as scheduled. District Judge Audrey B. Collins heard arguments from both
sides and then issued her decision. She determined that
Ms. Chase-Riboud had failed to show a likelihood that she would prevail
on the merits in a full trial and had failed to
demonstrate that she would suffer irreparable harm without and injunction.
In addition, Judge Collins noted that
Dreamworks had spent $70-75 million on the film already, and that the
hardship it would suffer if the premiere of
Amistad were delayed would outweigh the harm Ms. Chase-Riboud would
suffer if the film were allowed to debut on
tentative draft of the court's ruling
article about the decision, from M
onday, December 8
Central District of California home page
information on injunctions