Teddy Wayne explains the “random similarities” between a satirical piece he published for Radar‘s website and an episode of “CSI: NY” that aired nine months later… and the response he received from CBS when he complained:
A few weeks later I received a six-page, single-spaced letter from CBS’s Vice President, Assistant General Counsel. She dismissed my claims of infringement because copyright does not protect ideas, only the “expressive elements of those ideas.” Therefore, the concept of “privileged New York City youth attending clandestine parties where they engage in illegal drug use and revert to pursuits and conduct typical of kindergarteners” is not protectable; only the expressive elements, “such as dialogue and plot,” are. And what seemed to me disturbing coincidences were, according to her—here’s the phrase I learned—“random similarities.”
Her arguments turned to the contrasting mediums and tone. “The ‘Sindergarten’ concept is depicted in what appears to be a legitimate news article, not a dramatic one-hour television show involving the solving of two murders,” she wrote, and “the Episode’s tone is dark, and it clearly does not end as optimistically as the Article.” Moreover, “the Article serves as a piece of social commentary,” as it postulates (satirically) why Sindergarten parties have become a phenomenon among prep schoolers who grow up too quickly in the pressure cooker of upper-crust Manhattan, whereas the episode offers no such analysis. By that rationale, I can legally write a short story based on a recent “CSI: NY” episode—and, to make my case more airtight, just make the ending happier and with social commentary (Gary Sinise joyfully returns to his theatrical roots after becoming sickened by the phony entertainment industry!).
I do sometimes wonder what happened to the good old days, when writers drank like fish and smoked liked chimneys and owned bungalows in respectable communes and wore tweed and petticoats and monocles and had canes and raced finely-groomed dogs and got invited to tea with the Queen — and when they rode on horseback and traveled around Europe and the Americas and had torrid sexual relations with multiple partners: what happened to those days, when stealing from, and shitting all over, writers was not an activity respectable people engaged in? Those times seem ever so much simpler.