Adapting Novel into Film

AuthorCameron Hutchison
Adapting Novel into Film
 
 : This chapter explores, from an interdisciplinary perspective,
the right of copyright holders to adapt literary works into lm media. From
debates in other elds of study, certain theories emerge which help to better
understand the possibility of cinematic adaptation from literary sources. The
author begins with the counterintuitive idea that there is no essence to any
given work that is available to be adapted to another medium (constructiv-
ism). A second school of thought argues that the dierences between liter-
ature and cinema the written word and the visual image are too great
for there to be anything approaching equivalency between the two media
(adaptation skepticism). Next the author considers the argument that what
is adapted from book into lm is a narrative structure that in only some re-
spects is amenable to transfer to the lm medium (structuralism). The auth-
or concludes with a brief look at the argument that reading and visualizing
are inverse cognitive processes that suggest the dierences between the two
media are overstated (cognitive equivalency). Aer a brief exploration of the
adaptation right in law, each of these perspectives is addressed. The author
ultimately sides with the structuralist position and concludes that the legal
test for infringement has much to gain from this analytical framework.
 : Ce chapitre explore, dans une perspective interdisciplinaire,
le droit des titulaires de droit d’auteur d’adapter leur œuvre littéraire au
cinéma. Certaines théories, issues de débats provenant d’autres domaines
d’étude, aident à mieux comprendre les avenues d’adaptation cinémato-
graphique des œuvres littéraires. L’auteur débute en explorant l’idée, qui
va à l’encontre de l’intuition, qu’il n’y a pas, dans une oeuvre donnée, une
essence prête à être adaptée à un autre medium (constructivisme). Une
26 •  
deuxième école de pensée soutient que la diérence entre la littérature
et le cinéma le mot écrit et l’image visuelle est bien trop grande pour
qu’il y ait une quelconque équivalence entre les deux médias (scepticisme
vis-à-vis de l’adaptation). Ensuite, l’auteur considère l’argument selon le-
quel ce qui est adapté du livre au lm est la structure narrative, qui est sus-
ceptible à certains égards seulement d’être transférée au médium du lm
(structuralisme). L’auteur conclut en abordant brièvement l’argument selon
lequel lire et voir sont deux processus cognitifs inverses, ce qui peut suggé-
rer que les diérences entre les deux médias sont exagérées (équivalence
cognitive). Après un bref survol du droit concernant l’adaptation, chacune
de ces quatre perspectives est envisagée. L’auteur nalement se rallie à la
thèse structuraliste et conclut que le test juridique servant à déterminer la
contrefaçon gagnerait à emprunter de ce cadre analytique.
The history of cinema is replete with adaptations of novels into lm. Indeed,
it seems that almost every movie made these days is based on a book. Be-
yond mere commercial opportunism,1 there is at least something about the
lm medium that lends itself to borrowing from literary sources. The signi-
cance of this topic for copyright scholars is that the cinematographic or mov-
ie right vests with the author of a book (what I will call the adaptation right).
Where that right has been at issue, courts have struggled with developing
a methodology for determining infringement. The enormously complex
topic of assessing whether there has been a substantial taking from a textual
medium for adaptation into a visual medium has been oversimplied both
by legal tests for infringement and the manner in which they are applied.
The purpose of this short chapter is to explore the topic from extra-legal
disciplinary perspectives in an eort to highlight some of the shortcomings
of the law in this area, but also to embark on new ways of thinking about the
adaptation right. This chapter draws on a eld known as adaptation stud-
ies, which itself borrows liberally from literary criticism, lm studies, art
1 Douglas Y’Barbo, “Aesthetic Ambition Versus Commercial Appeal: Adapting Novels to
Film and the Copyright Law” (1998) 10 St Thomas L Rev 299 at 310 argues that best-
selling or even popular novels can have a trademark value that can easily translate into
commercial success for a movie version; Hollywood underwriters of big budget movies
can be assured of a certain amount of commercial success for the movie version of the
latest novel from John Grisham or Tom Clancy.

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