Copyright protection synopsis of an audiovisual work
The Court of Appeal in Warsaw in the judgment of October 24, 2019 issued in the case ref. act: I ACa 651/18 decided whether the synopsis of an audiovisual work (series) constitutes a work within the meaning of the provisions of the Copyright and Related Rights Act of February 4, 1994 (hereinafter: Copyright)
The provision of art. 1 Copyrights provides that the object of copyright is any manifestation of creative activity of an individual character, established in any form, regardless of the value, purpose and manner of expression (work). Art. 21 Copyrights, clarifies that only expressions can be protected; discoveries, ideas, procedures, methods and principles of operation and mathematical concepts are not protected.
Against the background of the above mentioned provisions, there are numerous court disputes in which the subject matter of the proceedings is to determine whether the effect of someone else’s activity is a work covered by copyright protection. The above circumstances are subject to the assessment of the court, which usually relies on the opinion of court experts in a field relevant to the subject matter of the dispute. The decisive criterion is whether a given work is creative and individual in nature, with the expression being assessed.
A particularly problematic issue is the legal protection of the idea. As a general rule, an idea does not constitute a work and is excluded under Article 21 Copyrights, despite the fact that it is an element of the creative and individual work of its author, constituting a starting point for the creation of the work. Unfortunately, in the case of unauthorized use of someone else’s idea, its author is not entitled to any copyright claims.
However, in practice, it is very difficult to determine whether a given work is a work or another kind of creative effect, including for example an idea. The case law in this area is very casuistic.
In the above mentioned judgment, the Court of Appeal in Warsaw explained what a synopsis of an audiovisual work consists of, indicating that „the essence of the synopsis – the solidified idea of the series – boils down to the creation of the essential, authorial and original threads of the series, which constitute the basic „idea” of the series, which is then filled with content within the framework of further elements of the Bible: character characteristics, story line, and the final form takes on specific episodes of the script, which multiply the threads and situations, but on the basis of the basic data contained initially in the synopsis (idea) of the series and the other elements of the bible of the series, create the whole work (script).”
In distinguishing between the script and the synopsis, it was stated that „the script of the series in its full spectrum includes both: the synopsis, story line, character characteristics, as well as individual episodes of the series.”
The Court of Appeal in Warsaw rightly decided that „a synopsis, understood as an established idea with a description of the main subjects (heroes), threads, events, places – can be a work if it has the author’s creative and original character.”
Thus, not only the screenwriter but also the author(s) of the synopsis may enjoy copyright protection, of course assuming that the synopsis meets the above mentioned criteria, which is to be assessed in relation to the specific circumstances of the case.