Q: I want to write a medical drama. How do I know whether it plagiarizes/infringes on another or is illegal?

Any particular details I musn’t have in common - character relationship dynamics, certain specialties that make a show distinct (as far as I know, psychiatry makes Chicago Med somewhat distinct), following a seasonly promotion, etc?

Also, are there any other things to worry about legally (getting the training program wrong, getting doctor/patient relationships emotionally and/or legally wrong, etc) or anything else

I’m not sure I’ll use all/any of these and/or others, but what’s the particular/general rule?

Thank you and Happy New Year!

1 Lawyer Answer
Dane E. Johnson
Dane E. Johnson
  • Trademarks Lawyer
  • Portland, OR

A: You’ll probably want to make the medical scenes in your drama accurate but not so much because of a legal reason. Professional screenwriters often use medical consultants to provide realistic context to their stories for film and television.

Scripts also go through extensive clearance for potential copyright and trademark issues before they are produced. But there are some parts of any genre drama that no show can exclusively use. In copyright law, these are referred to as “scènes à faire”, which means basically scenes that are such a part of the genre that a story could not be told without them. Specific sequences of these kinds of scenes could still be protected by copyright, so it is not any kind of permission to just copy plots of your favorite shows. But making up your own stories is not an infringement of copyright just because they are about the same themes.

An example of unprotectible scenes a faire from another genre would be police stories. As one court has said, “[f]oot chases and the morale problems of policemen, not to mention the familiar figure of the Irish cop, are venerable and often-recurring themes of police fiction.” Original stories that include such scenes and characters remind us that “in Hollywood, as in the life of men generally, there is only rarely anything new under the sun.”

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