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Judge tosses Shape of Water plagiarism case

A federal judge in Los Angeles ruled on July 23, 2018 that nothing fishy was going on with the production of The Shape of Water — well, nothing fishier than we thought, at least.

According to Deadline, Judge Percy Anderson dismissed a February 2018 lawsuit filed against Fox Searchlight and Shape of Water writer/director Guillermo del Toro, which had alleged that the movie had ripped off the plot and details from a play by Paul Zindel called Let Me Hear You Whisper. Zindel's 1969 play concerns a cleaning woman who works in a facility that runs experiments on animals. There, she meets what Deadline describes as "a fantastic intelligent aquatic creature, held captive in a glass tank," and she decides to set the creature free. The Shape of Water, likewise, follows a cleaning woman who works in a government facility where she meets an intelligent aquatic creature and decides to set him free. 

Needless to say, the similarities between the two projects are pretty tough to ignore, which led Zindel's estate to file the suit in federal court.

Even still, del Toro claimed that he'd never encountered Zindel's work, telling Deadline when the suit was first filed, "I have never read nor seen the play. I'd never heard of this play before making The Shape of Water, and none of my collaborators ever mentioned the play." Meanwhile, Fox's legal team played up the differences between the two works — Zindel's play featured a talking dolphin, while The Shape of Water explored a story with similar romantic themes to Beauty and the Beast.

Judge Anderson agreed that the two works were different enough to dismiss the case with prejudice, meaning Zindel's estate cannot refile. Additionally, the judge's ruling entitled Fox Searchlight, del Toro, and the rest of the former defendants in the suit to seek recovery of their legal fees related to fighting the case in court.

This is obviously a positive turn of events for del Toro and the rest of The Shape of Water's production team. The film had gone home with Oscar for Best Picture at 2018's Academy Awards (along with three Oscar wins), and so the possibility that the win might be somehow invalidated had the lawsuit gone the other way would've left a black eye on the movie's legacy. 

For now, fans of both Guillermo del Toro's movies and Cold War-era fairy tale romances between humans and fish-guys can breathe a little easier.