Angelina Jolie has been declared the winner in a lawsuit that alleges she stole work by Croatian journalist James Braddock to create her directorial debut, In the Land of Blood and Honey.
The actress was sued just weeks before Blood and Honey hit theaters in late 2011. Braddock alleged that the film about a love affair during the Bosnian Civil War violates his copyright on a book, The Soul Shattering.
According to Braddock’s lawsuit, one of the film’s producers, Edin Sarkic, who has been credited in the press with helping Jolie attain the necessary permits to film in Sarajevo, had read The Soul Shattering and had discussions over the possibility of creating a film adaptation of the book.
But according to a tentative decision by U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee, the works are not substantially similar, and a result, Braddock has been ordered to show cause why the action should not be dismissed with prejudice.
Braddock’s book Slamanje Duse was published in 2007, and it came out in shorter form in English under the title, The Soul Shattering. His work is set in 1992 in a small Bosnian village and features a Croat who is married to a Muslim when their lives are interrupted by war. Ultimately, the strength of their love brings them back together.
Gee wrote, “Although Blood and Honey is also a story of love, it highlights the complications of romantic love during wartime” between its protagonists — a Muslim artist and a Serbian military soldier.
When analyzing the plot and sequence of both works, Gee noted some of the similarities including the fact that both include escape sequences and brutal rape scenes. But that’s not enough. The judge says Braddock can’t have claimed to have “invented the concept of rape as a war crime” and says that whatever similarities there are in this regard don’t rise to substantial similarity, “particularly in light of the fact that those overlapping concepts are commonplace in books and films depicting war.”
Similarly, when analyzing theme, the judge admits some similarity but stresses the differences. “Blood and Honey is primarily a story of betrayal, revenge and tragedy with little or no hope, while Slamanje Duse focuses on family, love and strength.”
In the decision, the judge continued by exploring dialogue, the mood and the characters of both works. Parallels were drawn and then rejected as falling short.
Braddock certainly is not the first to fail in making a case for copyright infringement. Many writers have sued Hollywood studios, and judges often place the bar quite high for plaintiffs to demonstrate substantial similarity. Ideas aren’t protected, only expression. And then, there are limits to that. For example, the judge pointed out that “Slamanje Duseis based on the experiences of a real person and historical facts” but that certain details aren’t entitled to copyright protection. That both works take place during the Bosnian War, which the judge notes is “a historical event that is well documented and widely known,” doesn’t really get Braddock anywhere in his claims that now seem destined to fail.
Jolie and other defendants were represented by Harrison Dossick and Christine Neuharth at Reed Smith.
“The Court’s tentative ruling was thorough and well reasoned,” Dossick tells THR. “We are hopeful the court will adopt it in full when the final order is issued.”