Judge Dismisses Copyright Lawsuit Over Fox's 'Percy Jackson' Franchise

The studio beats claims from authors claiming copyright infringement.
Doane Gregory/Fox 2000 Pictures

A New York federal judge has dismissed a copyright lawsuit that claimed 20th Century Fox, the Walt Disney Co. and others involved in the making of the Percy Jackson series of novels and film lifted material from a series of young-adult books.

The lawsuit was filed in May 2010 by Robyn and Tony DiTocco, authors of The Hero Perseus: A Mad Myth Mystery (2002) and Atlas' Revenge: Another Mad Myth Mystery (2004), which told the story of a character named Percy John Allen ("PJ"), a modern-day teenager who descended from the Greek mythological hero Perseus and is summoned to fight ancient battles in order to save the world while balancing the demands of an every-day teenager.

The claims gathered some attention because the DiToccos were represented by Marc Toberoff, the attorney who has battled big Hollywood studios and had put together a complaint that listed hundreds of similarities between the five Percy Jackson novels by author Rick Riordan and the two books by the plaintiffs.

Nevertheless, copyright lawsuits alleging substantial similarity are tough, and here's another instance of a plaintiff who has failed to get past the initial threshold of proving misappropriated expression.

In a decision on Tuesday, New York Judge Sidney Stein offers a long analysis why no reasonable jury could conclude that the two works are substantially similar. A few examples:

  • The PJ books are told in third person.The Percy Jackson novels are told in first person by Percy himself.
  • The PJ books cover the protagonist's life near the end of high school and into college. The Percy Jackson material is set when the main character is age 12 to 16.
  • The PJ books educate readers about Greek mythology by straight exposition from the messenger Hermes whereas Percy Jackson is told these myths through conversations with various characters at Camp Half-Blood.

To be sure, the judge acknowledges some similarities, starting with the fact that both characters share the same first name. But since that name derives from the hero Perseus of Greek mythology, a character the judge notes is "unquestionably in the public domain," there's a simple explanation.

Plus, other noted similarities such as characters who have to cope with missing parents and display their strength in battles with otherworldly forces are deemed to be commonplace in the young male hero genre in works such as Harry Potter and Spider-Man.

In short, look left at two works and find similarities; look right and find dissimilarities and common ideas. As is common practice these days, Judge Stein favors the side that dismisses the claims on summary judgment.

E-mail: eriqgardner@yahoo.com

Twitter: @eriqgardner