Jon Snow Lives! Glenn Dies! When Revealing Plot Twists Constitutes Copyright Infringement

Joel Timmer · 22 Vand. J. Ent. & Tech. 587

Abstract

TV shows frequently rely on plot twists and cliff-hangers to keep viewers engaged and tuned-in for the next episode. To try to keep these plot twists secret, networks and program producers take steps to prevent people from revealing them before the episodes air. Recently, HBO and AMC, the networks that air Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead, respectively, have alleged that these so-called spoilers constitute copyright infringement. However, it does not appear that courts have considered whether posting such spoilers does, in fact, constitute infringement. This Article thus examines that question, which requires considering whether such spoilers constitute fair use of the copyrighted works, a defense to copyright infringement. This Article concludes that the revelation of plot twists before an episode airs by one with advance knowledge of the episode’s event likely constitutes copyright infringement. Significant here is the fact that the copyrighted works are not yet published, which weighs in the copyright holder’s favor when analyzing whether the spoilers constitute fair use. This provides copyright holders with a potential weapon to use against people who publish spoilers.