Hot Doc: Emma Thompson requests declaratory judgment of non-infringement

February 10, 2011


John Ruskin

Slated to star Orlando Bloom and Saoirse Ronan, production of Emma Thompson’s Effie is at a stand-still until she can formally disprove Gregory Murphy’s claims that she plagiarized his screenplay, The Countess.

Both Effie and The Countess examine the love triangle among Victorian-era art critic John Ruskin, his young wife, Euphemia Gray, and painter John Everett Millais. Murphy’s original work, a play, opened in 1999 and had a considerable run in New York, in addition to playing in London. Following the success of his production, Murphy clai

ms he wrote and published a screenplay of the same name, and asserts that Thompson viewed the screenplay.

Thompson, who argues she has never seen Murphy’s screenplay, penned her own version of the love triangle with the aid of her husband, Greg Wise, who studied Ruskin in art school. Feeling that she could provide new insights into the story and create a film that would resonate with modern audiences, Thompson revised her screenplay several times and registered the most recent version for copyright.

In 2009, Murphy became aware that Thompson wrote a screenplay about Ruskin, Gray, and Millais, and asserted that Effie was based on his own screenplay. In July of that year, Thompson permitted Murphy to read her version of the story and “observe for himself the striking differences between Effie and The Countess.” Although Murphy acknowledged some differences between the two works, he refused withdraw his claim that Effie infringed on his copyright to The Countess.

Hot Doc: Effie Film, LLC v. Gregory Murphy

Source: Westlaw News & Insight – National Litigation

Thompson, who won an Academy Award for her screenplay adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, attests her inspiration for Effie was gathered entirely from published historical works, the letters and diaries of the protagonists, and “her own creative imagining of how the characters spoke, looked, felt, and reacted.”

Concerned that the production of Effie cannot move forward until any threat of legal action is absolved, Thompson seeks declaratory judgment that her screenplay does not infringe on Murphy’s work. She feels the judgment is necessary to “obtain financing for and produce a motion picture” and to “obtain marketing, distribution, and theatrical or other exhibition of that motion picture.”

The story of Ruskin, Gray, and Millais has previously been dramatized in plays, operas, two BBC TV series, and the 1912 silent film The Love of John Ruskin.

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