What are Ms. Chase-Riboud's chief arguments?Ms. Chase-Riboud is seeking to prove that Dreamworks' 1997 motion picture Amistad infringes on her copyright interests in certain original characters, incidents, and descriptions contained in her 1988 book, Echo of Lions. She has raised two primary arguments:
- The similarities between the motion picture and her book; and
- The contacts between Dreamworks officials and her book.
Similarities between the film and the bookIn order to show that her copyright interests have been infringed, Chase-Riboud must obviously show that there are similarities between original aspects of her book and the Dreamworks film.
In her complaint, Chase-Riboud alleges 40 similarities between fictional elements of her book and the film. Most significantly, she points out the presence of a rich black abolitionist (played by Morgan Freeman in the film) as a central character in both the book and film; no such character existed in the events surrounding the actual Amistad incident. No such character exists in Black Mutiny either, the book from which Dreamworks alleges Chase-Riboud copied many of her original elements.
A second alleged similarity is the close relationship between former President John Quincy Adams (played by Anthony Hopkins in the film) and the slave leader, Cinque (played by Djimon Hounsou); although both the book and the film reflect that the two become fast friends, there is no historical evidence that the two ever even met.
Contacts between Dreamworks and Echo of LionsIf Ms. Chase-Riboud can prove that there are significant similarities between Amistad, the film, and Echo of Lions, she can help her case considerably by showing that the writers of the film and other Dreamworks officials involved in the film read or had access to summaries of her book. This reduces the possibility that the similarities are coincidental.
Ms. Chase-Riboud has alleged that such contacts have existed; indeed, if her account of events is correct, director Steven Spielberg and Dreamworks' team has had a number of opportunities to read her book.
Chase-Riboud alleges that:
- in 1988, former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, a friend of Ms. Chase-Riboud, gave a copy of the manuscript for Echo of Lions to Amblin Entertainment, Spielberg's production company, and suggested the company consider making a movie based upon it. Chase-Riboud met with Amblin officials, who later sent her a letter rejecting the idea;
- in 1993, Punch Productions acquired an option on Echo of Lions and assigned writer David Franzioni to prepare a screenplay based on the book. Punch later discarded the project. Franzioni is also the screenwriter for Dreamworks' Amistad;
- an early working title of Dreamworks' motion picture was The Other Lion, which Chase-Riboud alleges is suspiciously close to Echo of Lions;