Sunday, December 30, 2007

James Bond and Copyright

Got your attention? What could James Bond have to do with copyright? Actually, a bit of an interesting story. Which the London Times brought back to light in The battle for the soul of Thunderball.

For the Bond fans out there - especially those who read the books - they may know that Thunderball had a question of paternity. I remember reading the outline of the story when Connery came back to do Never Say Never. The excerpt from The Battle for Bond published by The Times covers that part as well as the plagiarism trial.

Other than learning that Thunderball was the most successful of the early Connery films (I thought Goldfinger would cop that honor) and Richard Burton was slated to be the first film Bond (no, no, no), I found a great description of the triumvirate of civil litiation. What makes up this triumvirate of civil litigation? People, money, and law.

On November 20, 1963, the Thunderball trial began in earnest. Could McClory prove that his copyright in the Thunderball story had been infringed by Fleming’s novel? Much was riding on the outcome, because, with the release of Dr No and From Russia with Love, starring Sean Connery, Bond was now a cinematic success. There was a lot of money, and some hefty reputations, at stake.

One must not underestimate the personal enmity between Fleming and McClory, clearly shown for the first time in the letters. Neither liked the other during the time they worked together, and they clashed frequently. In one correspondence, Fleming admitted: “I don’t particularly like Kevin personally, because I have never particularly liked Irish blarney.” The letters also reveal that Fleming was plotting behind McClory’s back to remove him from the Bond project. As for McClory, he labelled Fleming “cynical” and “a snob”. One suspects that half of McClory’s motive for his court battle was to put one over on the English Establishment, epitomised by Fleming.

The following paragraphs reminded me of a case I settled a few years back for similar reasons - a question of the client's health being able to endure an extended trial.

All the more strange, then, was what happened on the trial’s ninth day. McClory had just taken the stand when the hearing was unexpectedly and dramatically adjourned: Fleming had decided to settle. But why?

As Fleming had already suffered one serious heart attack, Bryce was worried about the effect the trial was having on his friend. What has not previously been revealed is that Fleming experienced two heart attacks during the case itself. So, after days of wrestling with his conscience, Bryce persuaded his friend to settle, rather than watch him endure the days to come. Fleming’s wife, Ann, was incensed, scrawling in her husband’s copy of Diamonds Are Forever, which had a dedication to Bryce, the words: “The man who betrayed Ian in the Thunderball case.” Fleming, too, was later to bitterly denounce Bryce’s actions. Yet, as Bryce was bank-rolling the defence, the decision was his to make.