How do you like your martinis?  Well, we all know how our favorite secret agent who is always dressed sharp, always getting the ladies and always working for M, the female head of Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), likes them.  Shaken, not stirred.  In fact, we can recognize James Bond simply by that saying.  But as plots thicken, we associate the attire, the way with the ladies, and the boss with him as well.

So, when you read this description what do you think: “a daring, tuxedo-clad British secret agent, employed by ‘His Majesty’s Secret Service,’ with a ‘license to kill,’ and a 00 (double-O) secret agent number on a mission to save England from the diabolical plot of a megalomanical villain.”  JAMES BOND, duh.  Wrong!  That quote comes from a copyright infringement suit filed against NBCUniversal by MGM.  NBCUniversal is working on a project, Section 6, which features a character and plot very similar to that of James Bond – the project is described as stated in that quote.

MGM will need to show that Section 6 is strikingly similar to the general James Bond theme in order to prove copyright infringement.  How similar is strikingly similar?  Well, MGM’s claim states that Section 6 goes beyond the tuxedo, job description, and location.  In fact, Section 6 allegedly misappropriates details about other characters, themes, setting, mood, and even dialogue – basically everything that makes a James Bond movie so thrilling and unique.

The facts do seem quite similar, and MGM’s complaint goes into excessive detail on the similarities.  Without a doubt, James Bond is a lucrative fictional character and NBCUniversal is looking to reap some of those benefits. But, how much would NBCUniversal need to change its project to avoid copyright infringement? It’s not a very clear situation, and it will be interesting to see if there is a tipping point.  For example, what if this were an Australian Secret Service agent who dressed in tuxedos and whose mission was to save Australia from the diabolical plot of a megalomanical villain? What if he dressed in overalls?  What if he reported to a male Head of Secret Service? What if he never got the ladies?  What if the dialogue was sufficiently different?  How many factors must change before James Bond is no longer James Bond?

Admittedly, there are knock-offs in other industries like designer watches and bags.  Presumably, consumers often know they are purchasing something that is a knockoff due to the price.  Those items actually try to copy the original as closely as possible.  Is NBCUniversal so bold as to do the same or are they actually creating something is just different enough to not be James Bond? An entire film is going to have some differences.  Is it fair to say that viewers will recognize this project as one trying to copy James Bond or one that is actually a James Bond authentic? What do you think–copyright infringement or not?

Sonal Patel

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