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Screenwriter's Case Against 'Light Between Oceans' in Rough Waters

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

A boat comes to rest on a lighthouse island. It carries two passengers: a newborn baby and a dead man.

That's how the story begins in "The Light Between Oceans," a best-selling novel that became a movie by the same name. Margot Louise Watts, a former in-house intellectual property lawyer, wrote it.

In Nobile v. Watts, screenwriter Michael Nobile says it was his story first. But the ending looks dim for his appeal to the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

No Substantial Similarity

A federal judge dismissed Nobile's copyright suit last year, saying there was no "substantial similarity" between the stories. Nobile's screenplay begins with a pregnant woman being swept ashore, and her baby dying on the fourth day.

"The pace of the two works is dramatically different," Judge Katherine Forrest wrote. "The screenplay takes place over the course of a few weeks, while the novel spans decades."

At oral arguments in the Second Circuit, the plaintiff's attorney argued that Nobile gave Watts a "jumping-off point." Opposing counsel said there is no copyright protection for "jumping-off points."

Judge Robert Sack pointed out other differences in the two works. He said Nobile's story was about a pious couple, but Watt's novel was about the tension between a biological mother and an adoptive mother.

End of the Story

Published by Simon & Schuster, the book sold over 23 millions copies before it was adapted for the big screen in 2016. Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander played the starring roles.

In the story, the baby is four years old when she is returned to her mother. For Nobile, the end may come sooner.

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