Ninth Circuit Reverses Dismissal of ‘Shape of Water’ Copyright Suit

Written June 29, 2020

The Ninth Circuit on June 22, 2020, reversed a district court’s dismissal of a copyright infringement lawsuit against the award-winning movie “The Shape of Water”, finding that David Zindel adequately alleged that Fox Searchlight Pictures Inc. copied aspects of his father’s play. Zindel v. Fox Searchlight Pictures, Inc., 9th Cir., No. 18-56087.

David’s father, author Paul Zindel, created “Let Me Hear You Whisper”, which depicts a romance between a cleaning woman at a scientific laboratory and an intelligent dolphin that is being harshly studied by scientists. “The Shape of Water” plots the romance between a cleaning woman and a mysterious river creature held in a laboratory. The district court dismissed Zindel’s complaint, finding that the film and book were not substantially similar to the play as a matter of law.

The Ninth Circuit reversed, saying that dismissal is only appropriate if similarities are only uncopyrightable or “de minimis,” and that “reasonable minds” couldn’t differ on the question of substantial similarity.