Spielberg ripped off Hitchcock classic: lawsuit

NEW YORK Tue Sep 9, 2008 7:28am EDT

Steven Spielberg watches the Los Angeles Lakers play the Boston Celtics during Game 3 of the NBA Finals basketball championship in Los Angeles, June 10, 2008. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Steven Spielberg watches the Los Angeles Lakers play the Boston Celtics during Game 3 of the NBA Finals basketball championship in Los Angeles, June 10, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Lucy Nicholson

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Steven Spielberg and major Hollywood studios stole the plot from Alfred Hitchcock's classic 1954 film "Rear Window" in making last year's "Disturbia," a lawsuit filed in Manhattan federal court on Monday said.

Dreamworks, its parent company Viacom Inc, and Universal Pictures, a unit of General Electric Co's NBC Universal, are accused of copyright infringement and breach of contract for making "Disturbia" without first obtaining permission from the copyright holders, the suit said.

Spielberg, a Dreamworks founder, is named as a defendant. The film grossed about $80 million at the U.S. box office.

According to the lawsuit, filed by the Sheldon Abend Revocable Trust, the basis for Hitchcock's 1954 film was "Murder from a Fixed Viewpoint," a short story by Cornell Woolrich.

Hitchcock and actor James Stewart obtained the motion picture rights to the story in 1953. The lawsuit argues that Dreamworks should have done the same.

"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," the lawsuit said.

A spokesman for Spielberg declined to comment. Representatives of Viacom and NBC Universal were not immediately available for comment.

According to the lawsuit, "Disturbia" and the "Rear Window" story are "essentially the same." Both are murder mysteries beginning with a man who, while peering from his window, witnesses strange behavior in the home of his neighbor.

The protagonist in all three of the works behaves in essentially the same way, interacts with similar characters and the plot unfolds in basically the same way, the lawsuit said.

"In the Disturbia film the defendants purposefully employed immaterial variations or transparent rephrasing to produce essentially the same story as the Rear Window story," the lawsuit said.

In reviewing "Disturbia," the New York Times called it "a kind of adolescent 'Rear Window.'" The Toronto Star newspaper called it "a rip off with wit."

(Editing by Daniel Trotta and Eric Beech)

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