Australian Author Sees Similar Plot to His in Trailer for New Danny Boyle Film

From The Guardian:

When Nick Milligan decided to self-publish his speculative fiction novel, Enormity, he knew it was going to be a hard slog to find an audience. But seeing a similar plot play out in the trailer for Danny Boyle’s new film, Yesterday, came as a shock.

“I had high expectations for Enormity’s success,” Milligan said. “I wrote it with a movie in mind.”

That goal seems even more out of reach now.

Written by Richard Curtis and starring Himesh Patel and Lily James, Yesterday follows a character called Jack (Patel) who has a bicycle accident during a worldwide blackout. According to the trailer, which was released last week, when Jack wakes up, he finds himself in an almost identical version of Earth in which The Beatles never existed. He passes off their music as his own, and havoc ensues.

It’s a plot that bears remarkable resemblance to the Australian Milligan’s novel, which also follows a character called Jack who, after a journey into deep space, finds himself on a planet that’s almost identical to Earth, with a few exceptions – including that its people have never heard of The Beatles.

“He passes off classic music as his own material, including that of The Beatles, and the story then explores the consequences of that lie,” Milligan told Guardian Australia.

. . . .

“The central premise and general exploration of the concept are the same. Both Jacks experience inner turmoil in regard to the lie they’re living and perpetuating,” Milligan said. “They’re both morality tales. Both are satires on the music industry. And the trajectory to superstardom, with Jack performing to a crowded stadium etc, appears to be in both.”

But there are differences in tone, Milligan points out.

“The tone of both, outside of the central premise, appears quite different. Yesterday is a more light-hearted family-friendly film, where Enormity is far more dark and twisted,” said Milligan. “It’s probably just a horrible coincidence and they mean me no disrespect.”

Milligan self-published Enormity in 2013, selling on Amazon. He estimates with giveaways and direct sales, he saw some 20,000 downloads of his book.

He chose to self-publish rather than trying to find a traditional publisher because he felt his idea “didn’t quite fit into a particular genre, so it might have been put in the too hard basket” by commercial publishers.

. . . .

Since speaking out over the weekend about the similarities between Enormity and Yesterday, Milligan said he has seen a modest spike in sales of his own work.

. . . .

Grant McAvaney, CEO of the Australian Copyright Council, told Guardian Australia that to prove copyright infringement, one creator would need to prove that the other had taken a material portion of their work. “So that’s not just the idea alone, but it’s the way the idea is explored … by reference to things such as structure, characters, key plot points and language used,” he said.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

In answer to questions that may come into the minds of TPV visitors, the OP doesn’t tell enough for PG to come to any conclusions about copyright infringement. Additionally, PG is not an Australian attorney, so he doesn’t know enough to comment on the application of Australian copyright law.

The quote from the representative of the Australian Copyright Council sounds similar to PG’s initial reaction about a similar circumstance occurring under US law.

At any rate, PG thought that Mr. Milligan’s self-published work deserved a link. It’s also available via Kindle Unlimited.

10 thoughts on “Australian Author Sees Similar Plot to His in Trailer for New Danny Boyle Film”

  1. Depending on who you hear it from, there are only so many plots out there, reused and abused across the years/decades/centuries. And even throwing in ‘on a computer’, ‘done by/with an AI’ and ‘in space’ is getting used up.

    “So that’s not just the idea alone, but it’s the way the idea is explored … by reference to things such as structure, characters, key plot points and language used,”

    There’s the punch line. 😉

    What’s that old line, using from one is stealing, from many merely research.

  2. I haven’t been able to find it, but I would bet that “guy who wakes up in a world without X” is listed on the TV Tropes website. I bet there’s a dozen examples that use this trope, including two that specifically reference the Beatles.

    • Of course, there is “Jack” in conjunction with “the Beatles.”

      But I think that Mr. Milligan is refreshingly sane (or as much so as any of us writers get, anyway). He recognizes that the treatment of the trope is sufficiently different from his that no conscious copying happened.

      I do wonder, though, how many of these “coincidental similarities” are unconscious. The screenwriter could have read the book several years ago – and when the time came to flesh out his ideas, dredged up both elements from a memory that he didn’t even recognize as such.

      Or maybe not. I happen to have an AI in my work named “Athena” – and she has a personality that is remarkably similar to one from the later novels by Robert Heinlein. However, I know the progression of thought that led to the name and the personality, and it owes absolutely nothing to the RAH character. (Actually, I only had the light go on in my head about this coincidence just before writing this comment. Yes, I can be rather slow at times (grin).)

  3. I’m ten chapters into the book, and I really don’t see any similarity other than both stories use the trope “guy who wakes up in a world without X”. And even that is a
    coincidental similarity at best. The movie has a world with The Beatles missing, but the world in the book is missing a lot of superstar bands from the 20th century.

  4. Art Buchwald won a plagiarism lawsuit against Paramount for COMING TO AMERICA, the Eddie Murphy movie, but that was for a film treatment (detailed plot summary).

    Plagiarism, especially for different types of media, is just about impossible to prove unless it’s blatant, and I’m sure more than one writer has been screwed. It’s impossible to tell if this one was real or not.

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