Court reports have emerged showing that John Carpenter successfully sued Luc Besson’s Europacorp for copyright infringement over the similarities between Carpenter’s 1981 sci-fi thriller film Escape from New York, and the 2012 release Lockout, directed by Stephen Saint Leger and James Mather, and scripted by Besson and the two directors.
According to French law-specialist publishers Légipresse, the Tribunal de Grande Instance in Paris handed down its judgment on 7 May 2015, after making a “detailed comparison of the plot and development of the films”, and decided that Lockout had “reproduced” key elements of Escape from New York – known as New York 1997 in France.
An excerpt from the Légipresse report describes the court’s story analysis in detail:
The court ... noted many similarities between the two science-fiction films: both presented an athletic, rebellious and cynical hero, sentenced to a period of isolated incarceration - despite his heroic past - who is given the offer of setting out to free the President of the United States or his daughter held hostage in exchange for his freedom; he manages, undetected, to get inside the place where the hostage is being held, after a flight in a glider/space shuttle, and finds there a former associate who dies; he pulls off the mission in extremis, and at the end of the film keeps the secret documents recovered in the course of the mission.
The court also suggested the similarites were clear enough to have been “picked up in a number of press articles” – this included the Observer’s Philip French, who remarked in his 2012 review of Lockout that “Carpenter, however, might well regard it as a remake of ... Escape from New York”.
The claimants had asked for damages of €3m, but in the event the court ordered Europacorp to pay out €80,000, of which €20,000 went to Carpenter directly, €10,000 to Escape from New York co-scripter Nick Castle, and €50,000 to the film’s rights holder StudioCanal.
EuropaCorp is appealing against the ruling, with a spokesperson telling AFP it was a “hindering of the freedom of artistic creation”. “[The plot ideas are] part of the common stock of cinema and the principle of convicting someone... is unacceptable, even if the court only granted three percent of the damages demanded.”
This article was written by Andrew Pulver, for theguardian.com on Friday 16th October 2015 18.20 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010