In ‘Oh, Really?’ the Biederman Blog’s editors — voracious consumers of all matters pop culture — cast a curious, skeptical, fancicul, fun and smart end-of-the-week eye on popular productions, sharing their keen observations about legal matters these raise…

In the movie Inception, Ellen Paige portrays Ariadne, a gifted architect of dream environments. Of course such creations aren’t possible now. But what if they became a reality someday soon? Would they be protected under copyright?

To own a valid copyright in a work, the law requires fixation, originality and expression. Let’s examine whether this box-office hit with eight Oscar nominations crosses not only a sci-fi barrier but a legal copyright threshold:


Fixation

The law says a work, to merit copyright, must achieve fixation in a tangible medium that is sufficiently stable to be perceived. In Inception, Ariadne fixes her work in a number of ways that she calls “pure creation.”

Ariadne fixes the dream environment when she creates the foam-core 3-D model of the dream environment in preparation of the caper. She shows the setup to her co-conspirators, explaining the intricacies of her design.

Copyright law does not require permanence in the fixation. Her co-conspirators also perceive the environment when they enter it in a dream state. The environment is, for all practical purposes, an alternative reality to those that enter. Thus, even though the environment later disappears, it should be considered sufficiently stable to be fixed as well.

Originality

Some small amount of creativity and independent creation is all that is required to satisfy the requirement of originality. In Ariadne’s creation, she takes elements from her own memory, such as a bridge, and uses them to create the environment.

In the Feist case, the court held that the product of fact compilation does not qualify for copyright protection. While Ariadne does re-use some facts, she learns to use only elements and not whole places from her memory. Thus, she is not just just compiling memories, but rather creating entirely new environments with some facts inside. Thus, the requirement of originality is also likely satisfied.

Expression

Finally, copyright protection requires a requisite level of expression. Expression is the combination of idea, pattern and tangible content to be protected. Ariadne’s ideas used to form the environment into a maze is unique, while the patterns and arrangement of elements from her memory are selected and arranged. Since this is more than raw fact, and since there the foam model and dream are tangible in the movie, the dream environment does appear to be expressive.

Since the required elements of fixation, originality and expression all appear to be satisfied, dream environments may well qualify for copyright protection. Now let’s dream up the billable hours for the lucky lawyer who will get Ariadne as a profitable, paying client….