Question: Both Trial by Jury and The Juror share the same exact plot about a female juror — Joanne Whalley in the former and Demi Moore in the latter, who's coerced into rendering a "not guilty" verdict to acquit a mob boss. In both, a mob enforcer (William Hurt and Alec Baldwin, respectively) end up falling in love with the juror. How did this not result in a plagiarism lawsuit?


Answer: Since it's hard enough to find a spokesman about a lawsuit that did happen, let alone one that didn't, I'm reduced to an educated guess in this matter. First, I wouldn't say that The Juror (1996) and Trial by Jury (1994) have "the same exact plot" — I'd say they have the same premise and that there are some striking similarities between the way the two stories play out.

Second, plagiarism is notoriously hard to prove: You can't just say that the plot of a book or movie is suspiciously similar to another: You have to chart the similarities and then you have to prove to a reasonable standard that the accused plagiarist had or could have had access to the material from which he or she is supposed to have stolen. That's why movie companies are so paranoid about unsolicited scripts: They're afraid of being sued somewhere down the line for stealing an idea. I'm fascinated by the copyright suit brought against the publishers of The Da Vinci Code by two of the three authors of the 1986 nonfiction book Holy Blood, Holy Grail. Not because — to my mind anyway, as someone who's read both — they don't have a point, but because I'm hard put to see a court finding that the writer of a fictional thriller "stole" historical facts. These weren't universally accepted historical facts, to be sure, but material presented as history by the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail.

In any event, my best guess as to why no one ever made noises about copyright or suing has to do with timing. Trial by Jury opened in September 1994 and The Juror opened in February 2006, thereby theoretically making it possible for the writers of the second movie to have seen the first, decided they liked it so much that they wanted to do their own version, and for that version to have been made and released. But The Juror was actually based on the novel of the same title by George Dawes Green. His book was published in January 1995, but it had already been optioned by June 1994, much too late for Trial by Jury screenwriters Jordan Katz and Heywood Gould to have read it and pilfered its main ideas. And at the same time, Green wasn't a Hollywood insider who might have gotten hold of the Trial by Jury script: He was an out-of-work novelist so broke after the failure of his well-reviewed first thriller (The Caveman's Valentine, which was made into an ambitious but ultimately pretty terrible movie in 2001) that he was reduced to moving in with his parents in Georgia. What the timing was perfect for was that Dawes, Katz and Gould could have all been inspired by the trial of "Teflon Don" John Gotti, which began in January 1993 and ended some five months later. Given all that, even if there was any stealing — and I'm in no way implying that there was — I don't think there's a reputable lawyer (don't bother writing to tell me that's an oxymoron, thank you) who'd take on a copyright-infringement suit.