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Lawsuit brought against The Shape of Water by playwright's estate dismissed

Contributed by
Jul 24, 2018

A legal battle between the creators of The Shape of Water and the estate of a late, acclaimed playwright has come to a quick and decisive end.

Deadline reports that Los Angeles federal judge Percy Anderson has dismissed a lawsuit brought against The Shape of Water director/co-writer Guillermo del Toro and Fox Searchlight Pictures by the estate of playwright Paul Zindel, which alleged that del Toro's film plagiarized plot elements of Zindel's 1969 play Let Me Hear You Whisper.

The copyright infringement suit was filed in February and claimed that del Toro's film, which won Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director, lifted the story, characters, and themes from Zindel's play. The piece centered around a lonely woman who works as a night janitor in a research lab and strikes up a relationship with a superintelligent dolphin held captive there.

Del Toro firmly denied the allegations at the time the suit was filed — which was right in the middle of its Oscar campaign — saying, "I have never read nor seen the play... I’d never heard of this play before making The Shape of Water, and none of my collaborators ever mentioned the play."

Fox Searchlight lawyers said in their defense arguments that the two works were "completely dissimilar," with Zindel's play focusing on animal experimentation and del Toro's film tackling themes of love and identity, as the story's mute cleaning woman (Sally Hawkins) falls in love with a humanoid aquatic creature that turns out to have miraculous powers.

Fox’s attorneys also argued that many other films have dealt with the subject of a relationship between a human being and a nonhuman but intelligent creature, including movies like Free Willy, Starman, and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, but that the similarity between The Shape of Water and Let Me Hear You Whisper ended there. Not only did the judge agree with that assessment, but he ruled that del Toro and Searchlight were entitled to recover the costs of defending themselves.

Zindel, who died in 2003, was best known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning 1964 play The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, as well as his 1968 young adult novel The Pigman.

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