Indie Author Sues Joss Whedon, Claims Copyright Infringement Over “The Cabin in the Woods”

cabin in the woodsWhen it was released in 2012, The Cabin in the Woods was hailed as a novel reinterpretation of the slasher genre of horror movies. It was nominated for and won numerous awards, and received critical acclaim.

And now it is the subject of a copyright infringement lawsuit.

The Wrap reports that an indie author by the name of Peter Gallagher has accused Joss Whedon, LionsGate Films, and other parties of ripping off a novel which Gallagher published in 2006.

The Little White Trip: A Night in the Pines reportedly tells the tale of a group of 5 friends who take a trip to a remote cabin in the woods. According to The Wrap, in the novel the cabin’s previous inhabitants were murdered by the father of the family, who returns to terrorize the group of friends. Later in the book this was revealed to be a trick. The friends were being recorded during all that time, and had been made involuntary participants in a snuff film.

The Little White Trip A Night in the PinesI haven't been able to get my hands on the book yet and confirm the accuracy of the claims, but The Wrap reported that not only were there similarities in the plot points the characters also had similar names. The two main female characters in his book are named Julie and Dura, where in the film they’re named Jules and Dana.

So is there any truth to this story, do you think?

Without reading the book and seeing both early and late versions of the script, I can't say. But I do know that this type of case often hinges on proving that the defendant had access to the infringed work, and I'm not sure that Gallagher will be able to prove a connection.

I've checked, and it's almost impossible to get a copy of the novel.

The book is not available in the Kindle Store or any other ebookstore. The author appears to be selling it direct from his own site, yes, but aside from that your options are limited. Bookfinder could only find 5 sites which have a copy. The cheapest was Amazon.com, where the best price was $46 (used).

Update: A reader pointed out that the ebook is available on Scribd as a marginally readable PDFThanks, Rain!

The author also said that he had sold his book as a street vendor and "hawked them in areas including Santa Monica, Calif., the Venice Beach boardwalk and the Hollywood Walk of Fame". I suppose that could be the path which the book may have made its way into the hands of the defendants.

But I would not assume that to be the case.

Sure, there are similarities between the novel and the movie, but both made intentional use of common horror flick tropes. The ages of the victims, the setting, and the initial setup are so common as to be cliches. You could just as easily claim that Gallagher lifted the details from some random 1980s horror film, that's how common some of the details were.

And then there are the radically different endings. In the book, the characters were dragooned into a snuff film (or so The Wrap reports), while in the movie the main characters were intended as a sacrifice to appease the elder gods. Those are radically different conclusions.

I can see how one could have inspired the other but I can also see the chance that they were created independently. There's also a chance that the Cabin script started as a recycled story from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the TV series Joss Whedon created in the late 1990s.

Unless someone can show how Gallagher's book got into someone's hands at LionsGate, I would not assume infringement.

About Nate Hoffelder (11591 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader:"I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

16 Comments on Indie Author Sues Joss Whedon, Claims Copyright Infringement Over “The Cabin in the Woods”

  1. Also, while the fans have aged somewhat, there’s still a rabid base of Tumblr users out there who think Joss Whedon walks on water for Firefly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. Do not anger the Whedonites or they will strike hard.

  2. Can the author even prove that he printed and sold the book when he says he did? If not, it’s him trying to scam Whedon.

  3. A lot of people (especially beginning writers) don’t understand that you can’t copyright ideas. Only the execution of those ideas. The idea that murders in a cabin are being secretly filmed, riffing on horror movies set in cabins, isn’t copyrightable. Nor is a vague similarity to names. Doesn’t sound like any of the similarities would rise to the level of a copyright violation, even if Whedon had read the book and said, “Hmm… interesting idea. I could do it better.”

    But he didn’t. There’s simply no way a film maker like Whedon would take a chance like that and borrow major elements from an unknown book. He could have bought all the rights for very little. And he would be too careful to copy something without having the rights. It’s a lot of work getting a film made, and there are lots of great ideas out there.

    Moreover, not a super original idea to begin with. This suit isn’t going anywhere.

  4. Is this not it?

    http://www.scribd.com/doc/158038655/The-Little-White-Trip-a-night-in-the-pines#fullscreen

    The link’s from the author’s blog where he says “But for now, you can read the book for Free – {HERE}”

    I have neither seen the movie nor read the book (nor am I likely to do either), so I have no opinion about this.

  5. I thought copyright protects against exact copying, not lifting concepts and plot points?

    • Yes and no. When it comes to shifting from one format to another (like a book to a movie), the rules are a little looser. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

      Given the many steps in turning a story into a finished movie, it is entirely feasible that someone could start with a script based on that novel and end up with a movie like Cabin in the Woods. That would not even be the most extreme adaptation I have heard of.

  6. Corwin Schwarzschild // 16 April, 2015 at 12:47 am // Reply

    Thanks for the article, by far the most informational piece I’ve read of the subject thus far.

    Given an amateur understanding of copyright law, I am not familiar with the tricks that might be up an attorney’s sleeve; that being said, it does sound like Gallagher has a case. The plot is eerily similar (Evil Dead cliches aside).

    It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see that the Lionsgate crew (who I would consider one of the more “sellout” Hollywood companies in recent times) ripped the premise off. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a truly original screenplay from the studio, but then again you can’t get sued for plagiarizing the Bible (ha).

    This is especially considering that Whedon and Goddard apparently wrote the screenplay for The Cabin in the Woods in three days (see the Visual Companion, 2012).

    That statement in itself gives an idea to why I have little respect for Lionsgate.

    Hence, I would be far from unhappy to see the company inherit the necessity to produce more creative (and generally better quality) films than the slough of hogwash I’ve seen from them over the past decade.

    We’re also talking about an independent writer versus a multi-million dollar film company.

    Godspeed, Gallagher; as far as I’m concerned.

    • He’ll be lucky to get to discovery.
      As Nate said, he needs more than common horror movie tropes.

      These suits are somewhat common and usually get lots of press and zero payoff. (Like the guy that Rowling ripped off Harry Potter from him, when the guy with the strongest claim, Neil Gaiman just congratulated her on her fine writing and moved on.) The biggest problem he faces is movie deals take forever to put together and Whedon has been cooking up stories since the last century. Cabin in the woods could have easily started as a possible Buffy episode that got recycled. (Just look at the cast.)

      Gallagher will be lucky if he doesn’t get sued in return for defamation.

      • Oops, that should be: “the guy that claimed Rowling…”

      • Cabin in the woods could have easily started as a possible Buffy episode that got recycled.

        I noticed the possibility as well. Honestly, “Cabin” has more details in common with Buffy than with Gallagher’s book. It’s one of the reasons I want to see an early script.

  7. So basically, he’s ripping off The Most Dangerous Game by way of Friday the 13th, and thinks he now owns both these ideas?

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