A former Harley Street dentist turned screenwriter has failed in her bid to sue the BBC over claims it ripped off one of her stories for hit crime drama Silent Witness.
Dr Donna Molavi said the BBC ‘copied’ her work for a double episode, entitled ‘Betrayal’, first broadcast in November 2019.
She told London’s High Court she was so shocked when she saw the show that she felt ‘sick’ and later threw out her television because the sight of it upset her.
But Mr Justice Marcus Smith today threw out her case after granting an application for summary judgment made by the BBC.
He ruled that her case was ‘unarguable’ and that any similarities between the two works related to ‘common tropes’ shared by many genre dramas.
Dr Donna Molavi told London’s High Court she was so shocked when she saw the show that later threw out her television because the sight of it upset her
The court heard that Dr Molavi, who lives in South Kensington, London, had taken a career break in order to devote herself fulltime to screenwriting.
In the six years up to 2017, she produced screenplays for three feature length films, which she called ‘Beyond Control’, ‘Last Hours’ and ‘Eye on Eye’.
But between 2016 and 2018, she says she had also developed an idea for a script involving a forensic pathologist investigating a covered up killing, entitled ‘London Dark Web’.
Two synopses documents and a treatment detailing the storyline were produced, as well as later two draft screenplays, said her barrister, Martin Howe KC.
It was pitched to ITV, but despite being commissioned, did not make it to the screen.
However, in November 2019, she says she was shocked to watch episodes of long running BBC drama ‘Silent Witness’ and spot ‘substantial similarities’ with her own works.
Dr Molavi complained that elements of her work appeared in ‘Betrayal’, which also features a plot centred on a ‘dispute over the accuracy of findings made by the protagonist in a post-mortem examination report.’
Like her work, she says, ‘Betrayal’ features professional criticism being made of the pathologist and, ultimately, discovery that a body has been tampered with and vindication of the main character.
Dr Donna Molavi said the BBC ‘copied’ her work for a double episode, entitled ‘Betrayal’, first broadcast in November 2019 (Pictured: Emilia Fox and David Caves in Silent Witness)
She sued the BBC, as well as writer Virginia Gilbert, with both deny using Dr Molavi’s work in devising the plot for the episodes, which formed the finale of the 22nd series of ‘Silent Witness’.
Mr Justice Marcus Smith, granting the BBC’s application for summary judgment today (23 March), said she did not ‘consider that these alleged similarities are capable of giving rise to an arguable inference of copying.’
Stories, including screenplays, derive their drama from themes which are ‘suprisingly few in number’ and some consider the number of basic plots for stories as being ‘no more than seven,’ she said.
‘Without wishing to descend too far into literary criticism, which I am unqualified to offer, the tropes that underlie our drama are limited by what drives the human condition – and a story based around revenge or jealousy or power will share certain basic features with another story similarly based,’ she said.
‘Secondly, and relatedly, for an inference of copying to be arguable, the similarities must go beyond these tropes, which are common not because of copying, but because we all share the same human condition.
Dr Molvai said she spotted ‘substantial similarities’ with her own works (Pictured left to right: Velvy (Alastair Michael) ,Jack Hodgson (David Caves), Dr Nikki Alexander (Emilia Fox) & Dr Gabriel Folukoya (Aki Omoshaybi)
‘The plot contained in the claimant’s works is very different to the plot contained in the defendants’ works.
‘Although both involve efforts by protagonists to overcome a force for bad, there the similarities end.
‘Considering all of the case pleaded by Dr Molavi, I conclude that there is no arguable basis for the contention that it is to be inferred from this material that the BBC copied any part of the claimant’s works.
‘It follows that the application of the BBC succeeds, both in relation to the copyright infringement claims and in relation to the breach of confidence claims, which depend upon the same – not arguable – averments.
‘Summary judgment should be entered for the BBC.’
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