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
Ms. Chase-Riboud's chief arguments
Dreamworks' chief argumentsA tentative draft of the court's ruling
CNN's article about the decision, from M onday, December 8
The Central District of California home page
More information on injunctions