The immortal gods are free for all mortal beings to use – and none can claim exclusive rights to them under copyright law. So, in effect, holds the United States District Court for the Northern District of California in granting summary judgment to the defendant in Bissoon-Dath v. Sony Computer Entertainment of America, Inc., Case No. 08-cv-01235 MHP, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 21090 (N.D. Cal. Mar. 9, 2010).
Jonathan Bissoon-Dath and Jennifer B. Dath sued Sony for copyright infringement, claiming that Sony’s computer game, “God of War,” infringed their copyrights in a series of related written works of fiction, including a treatment, “The Adventures of Owen,” and a screenplay, “Olympiad.” Sony’s work was an action-adventure game based on Greek mythology, featuring a mortal protagonist, named Kratos. Both Sony’s work and the plaintiffs’ works have the common theme of a human acting at the behest of a Greek god. The plaintiffs claimed that God of War went beyond that, sharing components of expression – elements of plot, character relationships, themes, settings, mood, pace, and dialogue – which the Ninth Circuit has held critical in determining copyright infringement.
In considering Sony’s motion to dismiss on summary judgment, the central issue before the court was whether there was substantial similarity of such protected expression. The court determined that story lines, plot idea, and other scenes from both works that flow naturally from basic plot premises that go back to Greek mythology are generic and not indicative of creativity, and so are not protected by copyright law. Thus, similarities in such elements of the works were not considered by Judge Stanton to prove actionable copying. As such, the court granted Sony’s motion and held that “no reasonable juror could find substantial similarity of ideas and expressions” between the plaintiffs’ works and God of War.
According to the court, “Greek gods, dialogues among them about mortal affairs, rivalries among the gods, and mythical beasts such as the Hydra or the Nemean Lion are unprotectable elements; it is uncontroversial that they have been used widely in both ancient and modern artistic works, in the naming of astronomical bodies and spacecraft, and in other fields.” Bissoon-Dath serves as a reminder that in order to succeed in a claim of copyright infringement, a plaintiff must be in a position to show that the elements of a work sought to be protected meet the standard for copyright protection to begin with – in particular, originality.