Disturbia Lawsuit Claims Dreamworks Ripped Off Rear Window

You can file this one under “most obvious lawsuit ever”. It seems that someone from the estate of Alfred Hitchcock finally got around to watching the forgettable 2007 Shia LaBeouf thriller Disturbia (I guess they were waiting for it to hit the bargain bins at Blockbuster… understandable), and lo and behold, they came to the realization that the plot of the movie is awfully similar to the Alfred Hitchcock classic Rear Window! Gee, it’s not like the similarities between the two weren’t previously mentioned in, oh I don’t know… EVERY SINGLE REVIEW OF THE MOVIE.

At any rate, who knows what took so long, but now Dreamworks, Viacom and Universal Pictures are all being sued for copyright infringement and breach of contract. The Sheldon Abend Revocable Trust points out that Rear Window was based on Cornell Woolrich’s short story “Murder from a Fixed Viewpoint”, which they bought the rights to. Dreamworks, however, did not pay to use the story.

“What the defendants have been unwilling to do openly, legitimately and legally, (they) have done surreptitiously, by their back-door use of the ‘Rear Window’ story without paying compensation… In the Disturbia film the defendants purposefully employed immaterial variations or transparent rephrasing to produce essentially the same story as the Rear Window story.”

Basically they’re being accused of making an unauthorized remake. I’m sure everyone would agree that they have a valid point here, but I wonder if it will be enough to hold up in court. Depending on how things go, it could potentially redefine the difference between homage and theft. My question is, haven’t there been other movies that riffed off Rear Window as well?

  • Aaron

    An injured person begins to spy their neighbors and eventually begins to suspect someone is an evil murderer.

    It’s a pretty broad basis for a story. Yes it could be argued that Rear Window and Disturbia both have that same basis. If that is grounds for a lawsuit… all I can say is: wow.

    My question is: If Disturbia had been a total and complete failure would they still be getting sued?

  • http://www.filmdrunk.com

    Don’t be hatin.

  • I love Rear Window. I also liked Disturbia a good bit.

    My question here is how someone can sue over a film like Disturbia, which certainly has it’s similarities to Rear Rindow, but the people who made Transmorphers can walk away scott free.

  • I’m rooting for the plaintiffs, if only because Cornell Woolrich is one of my favourite authors and I’d like to see him get some respect. That said, I doubt they’re going to win this one.

  • Matt

    I thought it was a straight up remake, with permission from the original. How rediculous to bring a lawsuit after sooooo much time having passed already. Shouldn’t there be some sort of statute of limitations? Rediculous.

  • There is a statute of limitations on copyright infringement. It’s three years. Disturbia came out a year ago, so it definitely falls within an acceptable time frame.

  • Bas

    Like Aaron said, the two movies share a pretty broad premise while the execution differs quite a bit. On the other hand it’s pretty obvious (and the makers, I think, even admitted this) that Rear Window was the starting point for Disturbia. In my opinion there’s no damage done – everyone knows Rear Window is a classic and the better movie of the two so Disturbia almost acts as a commercial for Rear Window for the teens that haven’t seen RW yet!

  • Bob the Slob

    Disturbia was utter modern day shit. dreck. As soon as I heard this line of dialouge:

    Chick is about to throw iPod into the pool
    generic kid: “no please, that’s 60 gigs of my life”

    I was finished. David Morse is great, but he couldn’t save the movie from complete mediocrity. Luckily I saw it free. If you want a truly great SEMI-remake of Rear Window I suggest Joe Dante’s The ‘Burbs…excellent film.

  • ProjectGenesis

    If ripping off Hitchcock is a crime. Brian DePalma should be in jail for life.

  • Bas

    @Bob: You’re right, it’s tailor-made for a teen audience, but iPods are so pervasive it would be strange to make a movie about young people (with money) and not show their iPods.

  • Sean Damkroger

    Alfred Hitchcock’s estate is NOT suing Dreamworks, instead it is the reprehensible Sheldon Abend’s relatives.

    Here is the back story. Cornell Woolrich sold the rights to his story “It Had To Be Murder” to a production company set up by Hitch and Jimmy Stewart. This included any future rights. Woolrich was supposed to file for a copyright extension, but he died two years before he could do it. Sheldon Abend came along and bought the rights to Woolrich’s stories from his widow (I believe). When Rear Window was shown on ABC in 1971, Abend sued and it was settled out of court for $10,000. Then, in 1974 it was shown again on TV and Abend sued again.

    Now, Abend tries to make himself out to be some kind of crusader for widows, but really it was about Abend getting rich. It was about speculators like Abend being able to buy up rights to old stories that movies had been based on, and being able to sue the producers of films when they come out on TV and VHS.

    It doesn’t matter that Woolrich meant for Hitch to have the rights for life. It doesn’t matter that Woolrich’s relatives meant to honor that contract. What matters is Abend’s greed and the greed of his family that is now suing.

    In a book of Woolrich’s stories released in 1994, Abend writes the most cloying forward in the history of literature, where he makes himself out to be the savior of poor widows and children of writers everywhere. He even signs the foreword: “Shedon Abend a.k.a. Buffalo Bill.” As if he is some kind of Wild Western hero. In fact, in the foreword he even calls his original lawsuit against Hitchcock a “David versus Goliath” fight. Gag.

    The fallout meant that any studio could be sued if the following three things were true:

    1. the underlying work was created or first published between 1964 and 1977;
    2. the author of the underlying work died before the renewal term began; and
    3. the heirs of the author of the underlying work did not grant the derivative work’s producer the rights to use the underlying work during the renewal term.

    What this meant was, if the studio had a contract with the original writer, and he died before he could renew the copyright (as he/she had agreed to do under the contract) then the relatives could sue or whoever bought the rights to the written work as Abend had Woolrich’s. Basically it created a legal loophole for any works written between 1964 and 1977. The fallout was, no studio will base any movie on works written between those time frames – at all! It’s really lousy, because when a studio buys the rights, the person that wrote it that sells it means for them to have the rights for all time, but Abend succeeded in screwing that whole process and denying the studio the rights they paid for and the writer meant them to have.

    Bottom line? Abend and his heirs are a bunch of money-grubbing scumbags that have hurt the usage of works written between ’64 and ’77. Now they are suing Dreamworks so the slime just passed down from one generation to the other.

  • Alice Jones

    No Aaron, generally people don’t sue for films that are failures – well done for pointing out the obvious! However companies do sue people who make money through stealing their ideas.