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John Carpenter Wins Plagiarism Case vs. Luc Besson Over ‘Lockout’

Besson’s EuropaCorp fined €80,000 ($91,000) and has appealed

MADRID – In a May 7 ruling made public Thursday, a Paris regional court has sided with John Carpenter and Studiocanal, finding Luc Besson and “Lockout” co-writers Stephen St. Leger and James Mather guilty of having plagiarized Carpenter’s “Escape From New York.”

EuropaCorp, Besson’s high-flying studio, told French newspaper Liberation that it has appealed the ruling. And the fine will hardly dent EuropaCorp’s sturdy bottom-line: the Paris and L.A-based company is sentenced to pay €20,000 ($22,800) to Carpenter, €10,000 ($11,400) to screenwriter Nick Castle and €50,000 ($57,000) to “Escape from New York” rights holder Studiocanal.

In an analysis of the court’s finding by Amelie Blocman published by the European Audiovisual Observatory and widely referenced in the French press, 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.”

Among other similarities: the hero “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 combination of these elements was sufficient to constitute copyright infringement, the Paris court ruled.

Multiple critics noted “Lockout’s” resemblance to “Escape From New York.” The setup is basically ‘Escape From New York’ in space,” wrote Variety‘s Justin Chang. Not that the film did not have some rewards, tackling a “nifty futuristic premise with bargain-basement efficiency and a deadpan, devil-may-care attitude. But “It’s an initially invigorating tactic that proves slapdash and unsatisfying over the long haul, reducing a potentially rich sci-fier to the level of a halfway decent time-killer.”

Distributed by Film District, “Lockout” grossed $14.3 million in the U.S. and $32.2 million worldwide. Payoff may well have been in ancillary.

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