The Amistad case: 'Outright Plagiarism' or 'Who Owns History?'CASE UPDATE: February 12, 1998
On Monday, February 9, plaintiff Barbara Chase-Riboud settled with Steven Spielberg and Dreamworks SKG. Chase-Riboud complimented Dreamworks for their film, Amistad and, as part of the settlemnt, dropped her plagiarism suit against the studio. It was the film premiere that almost didn't happen.
On Friday, December 12th, Dreamworks latest movie, Amistad, opened in major markets nationwide. Four days earlier, a federal court in Los Angeles denied a motion to enjoin the film, pending a trial to determine whether or not characters, scenes, and other aspects of Amistad were illegally copied from the 1988 book, Echo of Lions.
Although the preliminary injunction motion was denied, the lawsuit is still very much alive. The U.S. District Court for the Central District of Los Angeles is expected to decide the case in 1998.
On December 12, the latest movie from Dreamworks SKG opened nationwide. Amistad, directed by Steven Spielberg, is based on an actual 1839 revolt by Africans aboard a Spanish slave ship.
Barbara Chase-Riboud is a Kafka Award and Carl Sandburg-award winning sculptor, poet, and author. Ms. Chase-Riboud is suing Dreamworks. She claims that the movie uses characters, incidents, and relationships from her 1988 book, Echo of Lions.
Ms. Chase-Riboud sued Dreamworks in federal court for $10 million. On December 8, the U.S. district court for the Central District of California denied Ms. Chase-Riboud's motion for a preliminary injunction. If the court had granted her motion, Amistad might have been prevented from opening until the court issued a final verdict in the case.
160 years and two court cases
The original Amistad revolt led to a U.S. Supreme Court case, in 1841. Two months after the Africans escaped their chains and killed most of the Spanish, the boat was found off the coast of New York. The Supreme Court considered the question of whether the Africans should be given their freedom in America or sold into slavery.
Former U.S. President John Quincy Adams argued before the Supreme Court in favor of giving the Africans their freedom.
This site explores the historical and legal issues and characters involved in the two disputes arising out of the Amistad revolt.
See also LII's UNABOM legal issues site -- new December 22nd
New on Thursday, January 29th (new!)
- Breaking news in Chase-Riboud v. Dreamworks throughout January new!
Last updated (30 January) to reflect the decision in the Twister case
New on Friday, January 23rd
- Biograpical resources on Roger Sherman Baldwin
New on Tuesday, January 13th
- The full text of John Quincy Adams' argument before the Supreme Court in 1841
Table of Contents of this Website
- Historical and chronological background
- The Amistad revolt (1839)
- A brief guide to Sierra Leone(new!)
- The original Amistad case (1841)
- Biographies of the key Supreme Court Justices involved in the historic Amistad case (and in the film)
- The full text of John Quincy Adams' argument before the Supreme Court
- Biographical resourceson Roger Sherman Baldwin new!
- Barbara Chase-Riboud's book, Echo of Lions (1988)
- Who is Barbara Chase-Riboud?
- Other books about the Amistad incident
- Dreamworks' film Amistad (1997) (now including reviews)
- Who is Steven Spielberg? What is Dreamworks SKG?
- The second Amistad case
- What are Ms. Chase-Riboud's chief arguments?
- What are Dreamworks' chief arguments?
- Late-breaking Monday, December 8th events (preliminary injunction hearing)
- New events in January 1998 (updated Jan. 29th) (new!)
- Legal issues - Amistad I
- The law of salvage
- The law of slavery in 1841
- The development of the law since United States v. The Amistad
- Legal issues - Amistad II
- Copyright law
- Internet copyright references from the Legal Information Institute
- The exclusive rights of an author (17 U.S.C. §106)
- But what about historic facts, ideas, etc. (17 U.S.C. §102(b))
- Remedies available to a copyright holder in cases of infringement (17 U.S.C. §§ 501-511)
- Recent copyright decisions involving analogous disputes (decisions courtesy of the LOIS Law Library)
- Hoehling v. Universal City Studios, Inc., 618 F.2d 972 (2d Cir. 1980)
- Miller v. Universal City Studios, Inc., 650 F.2d 1365 (5th Cir. 1981)
- Nash v. CBS, Inc., 899 F.2d 1537 (7th Cir. 1990)
- Civil procedure: What is a preliminary injunction?
- Apple Computer, Inc. v. Formula International, Inc., 725 F.2d 521 (9th Cir. 1984).
- Civil procedure: What are the pleadings (complaint and answer)?
- Public documents from Chase-Riboud v. Dreamworks, Inc.
- Plaintiff's (Chase-Riboud) complaint (incomplete version)
- Plaintiff's complaint (complete version) (requires Acrobat Reader) new!
- Plaintiff's reply in support of her preliminary injunction motion (requires Acrobat Reader
- Plaintiff's reply to alleged similarities between Echo of Lions and Black Mutiny (requires Acrobat Reader
- A tentative draft of the District Court's December 8 ruling, denying Ms. Chase-Riboud's motion for a preliminary injunction
- Coming soon: other documents pertaining to the next stage of the litigation: pretrial
- Related links
- Special thanks
Prepared by Michael Peil for the Legal Information Institute. Last edited 12 February 1998 at 12:26.