In an appeal as part of a court battle over potential copyright infringement, lawyers go back and forth on elements Battlestar Galactica may have borrowed from Star Wars.

May 6, 1983
Government Document
9th Circuit Court of Appeals (USA)

Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. v. MCA, Inc., 715 F. 2d 1327, Court of Appeals, 9th Circuit, 1983, accessed February 9, 2023

9th Circuit Court of Appeals (USA)
20th-century Fox, 9th Circuit Court of Appeals (USA), MCA, Inc.
9th Circuit Court of Appeals (USA)

In 1977, Twentieth Century-Fox produced and distributed the motion picture "Star Wars." The commercial success of that venture did not go unnoticed. The following year "Battelstar: Galactica" was released as both a motion picture and television series. Universal Studios, Inc., a subsidiary of MCA, Inc., produced and owned the rights to Battlestar, and ABC televised the Battlestar space saga.

In June, 1978, Fox commenced this action against MCA, Universal, and ABC, alleging copyright infringement. Subsequently, Fox's amended complaint joined Lucasfilm, Ltd. as co-plaintiff, and alleged that defendants had also infringed Lucasfilm's copyright in its 1976 Star Wars book.

Defendants moved for partial summary judgment on the copyright claims. In connection with that motion, the trial judge reviewed a videotape montage of prior science fiction works, the Star Wars film and book, and a videotape of the first television episode of Battlestar. Defendants did not contest the validity of plaintiffs' Star Wars copyrights. Further, for purposes of the motion, defendants admitted access to plaintiffs' works.

The only issue raised in the motion was whether defendants' Battlestar: Galactica production was so dissimilar to plaintiffs' Star Wars works, as to both ideas and expression of those ideas, that no material issue of fact existed on the question of substantial similarity, and the question could be decided as a matter of law. The trial court granted defendants' motion for partial summary judgment. This appeal ensued.


Appellant Fox argued in its brief that a comparison of the two works discloses at least 34 similarities. For illustrative purposes only, we list 13 of the alleged similarities:

(1) The central conflict of each story is a war between the galaxy's democratic and totalitarian forces.

(2) In Star Wars the young hero's father had been a leader of the democratic forces, and the present leader of the democratic forces is a father figure to the young hero. In Battlestar the young hero's father is a leader of the democratic forces.

(3) The leader of the democratic forces is an older man, displaying great wisdom, and symbolizing goodness and leadership, with a mysterious mystical ability to dominate a leader of the totalitarian forces.

(4) An entire planet, central to the existence of the democratic forces, is destroyed.

(5) The heroine is imprisoned by the totalitarian forces.

(6) A leading character returns to the family home to find it destroyed.

(7) The search by the totalitarians and the liberation attempt by the democratic forces are depicted in alternating sequences between the totalitarian and democratic camps.

(8) There is a romance between the hero's friend (the cynical fighter pilot) and the daughter of one of the leaders of the democratic forces.

(9) A friendly robot, who aids the democratic forces is severely injured (Star Wars) or destroyed (Battlestar) by the totalitarian forces.

(10) There is a scene in a cantina (Star Wars) or casino (Battlestar), in which musical entertainment is offered by bizarre, non-human creatures.

(11) Space vehicles, although futuristic, are made to look used and old, contrary to the stereo-typical sleek, new appearance of space age equipment.

(12) The climax consists of an attack by the democratic fighter pilots on the totalitarian headquarters.

(13) Each work ends with an awards ceremony in honor of the democratic heros.

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