Compendium of U.S. Copyright Practices, 3rd Edition

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313.4 (I) Scènes à Faire

313.4 (I) Scènes à faire

The copyright law does not protect stock characters, settings, or events that are common to a particular subject matter or medium because they are commonplace and lack originality. For example, the copyright for a work about the Hindenburg would not cover elements that are “indispensable, or at least standard, in the treatment of” that topic, such as scenes that take place in a German beer hall or characters who utter common greetings of the period. See Hoehling, 618 F.2d at 979. The copyright for a work about a police station in an urban slum would not cover elements that necessarily result from the choice of that setting, such as scenes depicting drunks, prostitutes, vermin, and derelict cars, or stock themes commonly linked to the genre of police fiction, such as foot chases or the “familiar figure of the Irish cop.” See Walker v. Time Life Films, Inc., 784 F.2d 44, 50 (2d Cir. 1986). Likewise, the fact “[t]hat treasure might be hidden in a cave inhabited by snakes, that fire might be used to repel the snake, that birds might frighten an intruder in the jungle, and that a weary traveler might seek solace in a tavern . . . [are] simply too general to be protectable.” See Zambito v. Paramount Pictures Corp., 613 F. Supp. 1107, 1112 (E.D.N.Y 1985).

While Scènes à faire cannot be registered by themselves, a work of authorship that contains standard expressions or stock characters, settings, or events may be registered provided that the work as a whole contains a sufficient amount of original expression.

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