Is it true that Inception ripped off an old Donald Duck comic strip?
—G.F., via A.B. inbox
First of all, it was an Uncle Scrooge comic, and don't be ridiculous. The comic made much more sense than the movie, even considering the fact there were talking ducks in it.
Still, there are quite a few similarities between the comic—entitled Uncle Scrooge in The Dream of a Lifetime—and the Leonardo DiCaprio flick. I dug around to see where writer-director Christopher Nolan got his idea. I also ran your query past some intellectual property experts to determine if we're going to see any sort of duck-on-DiCaprio lawsuit in the near future:
And the answer to that latter question is, probably not.
There are simply too many differences in each story. Yes, both stories deal with dream invasion. Both have some form of thought manipulation. But beyond that, the stories start to diverge.
For one, "Dream manipulation has been around at least since Shakespeare's fairies did it in A Midsummer Night's Dream," points out attorney Joseph R. Englander of Shutts & Bowen LLP. "The concepts of the comic and the movie may be similar, but that alone is not enough to claim infringement."
Right. And there are other points of difference. There are ducks in the comic, not people.
And the motives in the two stories are totally different.
The goal in the Scrooge comic is simple theft; someone wants to steal Scrooge's money. The impetus in Inception is some sort of something-something about two energy companies, and the head of one wants to break up the other, and everybody decides that the best way to do that is not through a hostile stock takeover but rather via Cillian Murphy's brain.
However, for the sake of argument, let's just say that Nolan did happen to see that Scrooge comic. Let's just say that one floppy little booklet gave him the idea to pen a tale about a bunch of pretty people who jack into dreams through their wrists—you know, where the dreams live?—and plunder all the thoughts therein.
Even so, it still doesn't really count as a real ripoff, I am told.
At least, not in a court of law. As intellectual property litigator IP litigator Michael Elkin puts it, it comes to ripoffs, you can't copyright an idea, only an expression of an idea. And the expressions are just too dissimilar.
What does Nolan have to say about all this? Well, here's what he told Collider about where he got the idea.
"Well, I stole it," he said. "It's a little risky putting yourself out there again stealing ideas, yes. It really came about as a result of...I don't remember specifically where the idea came from, except that once I started exploring the idea of people sharing a dream space, entering a dream space and sharing a dream. That gives you the ability to access somebody's subconscious. What would that be used and abused for?"
So there you have it. Nolan got the idea when he jacked into Walt Disney's brain.