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Jerry Pournelle on Copyright, Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica

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On the latest This Week in Tech, guest panelist and sci-fi author Jerry Pournelle has an interesting anecdote about his involvement with a copyright squabble between Fox and Universal in the 1970s concerning Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica. As noted on Wikipedia:

Battlestar Galactica was finally produced in the wake of the success of the 1977 film Star Wars. In fact, 20th Century Fox sued Universal Studios (the studio behind Battlestar Galactica) for copyright infringement, claiming that it had stolen 34 distinct ideas from Star Wars. Universal promptly countersued, claiming Star Wars had stolen ideas from the 1972 film Silent Running (notably the robot “drones”) and the Buck Rogers serials of the 1940s.

Pournelle says [go to about 1:15:45 of the TWiT episode] that after Universal was sued by Fox, he was paid $20,000 by Universal to help show that BG was not too similar to Star Wars. Pournelle says that to write a brief showing there was no plagiarism. He says,

I looked at it, and said, why, that’s easy. If you ask me which is the better movie, then no question, Star Wars is the better one. But if you ask me which is the most original, there ain’t an original frame in either one of ‘em! They’re both derivative from fiction that was published centuries ago–for instance the male-pair bonding between Han Solo and Luke Skywalker was echoed in Battlestar Galactica–I said, yeah, and they both got it from Homer, didn’t they?

See also Battlestar Galactica Dubbed “Too Expensive” and “Star Wars Ripoff”; The Top Five Most Ridiculous Legal Disputes Involving Lucasfilm, the latter of which lists the #1 most ridculous lawsuit as follows: “Star Wars blatantly rips off Universal’s Silent Running. Universal’s Battlestar Galactica overtly steals from Star Wars. No one acknowledges that every sci-fi movie is a variant of other sci-fi movies. Lawsuits are filed.”

Stephan Kinsella is an attorney in Houston, director of the Center for the Study of Innovative Freedom, and editor of Libertarian Papers.

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