by Eriq Gardner
Angelina Jolie has tentative been declared the winner in a lawsuit that alleged she stole work by Croatian journalist James Braddock to create her directorial debut, In the Land of Blood and Honey.
But according to a tentative decision by U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee, the works are not substantially similar, and a result, Braddock has been ordered to show cause why the action should not be dismissed with prejudice.
Braddock’s book Slamanje Duse was published in 2007, and it came out in shorter form in English under the title, The Soul Shattering. His work is set in 1992 in a small Bosnian village and features a Croat who is married to a Muslim when their lives are interrupted by war. Ultimately, the strength of their love bring them back together.
Judge Gee notes, “Although Blood and Honey is also a story of love, it highlights the complications of romantic love during wartime” between its protagonists — a Muslim artist and a Serbian military soldier.
When analyzing the plot and sequence of both works, Judge Gee notes some of the similarities including the fact that both include escape sequences and brutal rape scenes. But that’s not enough. The judge says that Braddock can’t have claimed to have “invented the concept of rape as a war crime,” and says that whatever similarities there are in this regard, don’t rise to substantial similarity “particularly in light of the fact that those overlapping concepts are commonplace in books and films depicting war.”
Similarly, when analyzing theme, the judge admits some similarity but stresses the differences. “Blood and Honey is primarily a story of betrayal, revenge, and tragedy with little or no hope, while Slamanje Duse focuses on family, love, and strength.”
In the decision, the judge continues by exploring dialogue, the mood and the characters of both works. Parallels are drawn, and then rejected as falling short. Read the full ruling for the judge’s deconstruction.
Braddock is certainly not the first to fail in making a case for copyright infringement. Many writers have sued Hollywood studios and judges often place the bar quite high for plaintiffs to demonstrate substantial similarity. Ideas aren’t protected; only expression. And then, there are limits to that. For example, the judge points out that “Slamanje Duse is based on the experiences of a real person and historical facts,” but that certain details aren’t entitled to copyright protection. That both works take place during the Bosnian War, which the judge notes is “a historical event that is well documented and widely known” doesn’t really get Braddock anywhere in his claims that now seem destined to fail.
Jolie and other defendants were represented by Harrison Dossick and Christine Neuharth at Reed Smith.
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by: Eriq Gardner