The Shape of Water sued for alleged copyright infringement

Sally Hawkins and Doug Jones in The Shape of Water

Sally Hawkins and Doug Jones in The Shape of Water

A lawsuit against the critically acclaimed Guillermo Del Toro film, The Shape of Water, claims the idea for the film was taken from a 1969 Paul Zindel play called Let Me Hear You Whisper.

If you haven't seen it yet, The Shape of Water stars Sally Hawkins as a lonely, mute janitor who works at a top secret research facility and forms a unique relationship with an amphibious creature that is being held in captivity for government research.

Despite the current controversy, the film has been embraced by the industry, picking up 13 Oscar nominations, including double nods for del Toro for best director and best screenplay (he co-wrote the film with Vanessa Taylor).

Votes are now being cast for the awards, which take place in Los Angeles on 4 March. "Despite the glaring similarities between the Play and the obviously derivative Picture, Defendants never bothered to seek or obtain a customary license from Plaintiff of motion picture and ancillary rights to the Play, nor did Defendants credit Zindel on the Picture", Zindel alleges. The plot is similar in nature to that of Let Me Hear You Whisper, which is about a soft-spoken cleaning lady who works in a lab and befriends an intelligent dolphin, learning how to communicate with him and later plotting to rescue him from the facility after she learns the scientists want to dissect his brain.

Fox Searchlight said the claims were baseless (and) wholly without merit and appeared timed to coincide with the Academy Award voting cycle in order to pressure our studio to quickly settle. In a complaint filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court, the estate of Paul Zindel alleges The Shape of Water "brazenly copies the story, elements, characters, and themes" of a 1969 work by the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright.

The lawsuit cited interviews given by Kraus and del Toro in which they said Kraus, an American novelist, came up with the storyline about a janitor who kidnaps an amphibian.


Zindel claims his father's work has not only been performed live, but is taught in schools and has aired on national television twice - and producer Daniel Kraus is a known "admirer" of the playwright's work. "We are very grateful for the spontaneous outpouring on social media that first brought this injustice to our attention".

The studio said it would vigorously defend ourselves and, by extension, this groundbreaking and original film.

"This troubling matter was raised with Fox five weeks ago but was met with inertia".

The family is seeking damages and costs.

As The Guardian notes, this is not the first time The Shape of Water has drawn allegations of stolen ideas - nor is Zindel's estate the first to accuse the filmmakers of such plagiarism: French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet accused del Toro of lifting a scene from one of his films.

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