In a French court, filmmaker John Carpenter has won a lawsuit against filmmaker Luc Besson over the plagiarism of Escape From New York.
In 2012, Besson delivered the low-budget action flick Lockout, starring Guy Pearce — ex-con sent to rescue the President’s daughter from a maximum security prison in orbit above Earth. While the film failed to produce significant box office success, it was seen as a fun adventure flick with plenty of action candy. Box Office described it as “a sleek, slick and shameless rip-off of John Carpenter’s Snake Plissken films Escape from New York and Escape from L.A.”
Which is exactly what Carpenter’s lawsuit claimed.
Carpenter and his representatives filed a copyright infringement suit against EuropaCorp and the film’s writers Stephen St. Leger, James Mather, and Besson. The claim was recently decided in the Tribunal de Grande Instance (TGI) in Paris, France.
In the decision, the court had to separate what has now become stock set pieces of the science fiction and action milieu — well-documented tropes that can be found in almost every “formula” picture. The focus, then, dialed in on the similarities between Lockout and the two Carpenter films.
In reaching its decision, the court recalled that although ideas are free to be used and there could be no protection merely for the theme of a film, it was nevertheless possible to consider whether the form of the film was not a characteristic feature, and whether its reproduction was such as to constitute infringement of copyright; this was determined by considering similarities rather than differences.
Scrutinizing the details of the plot, the particular elements and how they were combined, along with the character types, the court was able to determine that EuropoCorp and the Lockout production had, indeed, committed plagiarism.
The court nevertheless noted many similarities between the two science-fiction films: both presented an athletic, rebellious and cynical hero, sentenced to a period of isolated incarceration – despite his heroic past – who is given the offer of setting out to free the President of the United States or his daughter held hostage in exchange for his freedom; he manages, undetected, to get inside the place where the hostage is being held, after a flight in a glider/space shuttle, and finds there a former associate who dies; he pulls off the mission in extremis, and at the end of the film keeps the secret documents recovered in the course of the mission. The court held that the combination of these elements, which gave the film ‘New York 1997’ its particular appearance and originality, had been reproduced in ‘Lock-Out’, apart from certain scenes and specific details that were only present in the first film.
Europacorp was ordered to pay 50,000 Euros (approx. $55,000 US) to the rights owner, 20,000 (approx. $22,000 US) to Carpenter and 10,000 (approx. $11,000 US) to his co-screenwriter, Nick Castle.