A former Harley Street dentist turned screenwriter has failed in her bid to sue the BBC over claims it ripped off one of her stories for the hit crime drama Silent Witness.
Dr Donna Molavi said the BBC ‘copied’ her work for a double episode, titled ‘Betrayal’, which first aired in November 2019.
She told the High Court in London that she was so shocked when she saw the show that she felt “sick” and then threw her television away because the sight bothered her.
But Judge Marcus Smith today dismissed her case after granting a request for summary judgment put forward by the BBC.
He ruled that her case was ‘undisputed’ and that any similarities between the two plays related to ‘common tropes’ shared by many genre dramas.
Dr Donna Molavi told the High Court in London that she was so shocked when she saw the show that she later threw her television away because the sight bothered her.
The court heard that Dr Molavi, who lives in South Kensington, London, had taken a career hiatus to pursue screenwriting full-time.
In the six years to 2017, he produced scripts for three feature films, which he called ‘Beyond Control’, ‘Last Hours’ and ‘Eye on Eye’.
But between 2016 and 2018, he says he had also developed an idea for a script involving a forensic pathologist investigating an undercover murder, titled ‘London Dark Web’.
Two synopsis documents and a treatment detailing the story were produced, as well as two later script drafts, said his lawyer, Martin Howe KC.
It was pitched to ITV, but despite being commissioned, it did not make it to the screen.
However, in November 2019, he says he was surprised to watch episodes of the long-running BBC drama ‘Silent Witness’ and spot ‘substantial similarities’ to his own works.
Dr Molavi complained that elements of her work appeared in ‘Betrayal’, which also features a plot centering on a ‘dispute over the accuracy of the findings made by the protagonist in a post-mortem examination report’.
Like his work, he says, “Betrayal” features professional criticism of the pathologist and, ultimately, the discovery that a body has been tampered with and vindication of the main character.
Dr Donna Molavi said the BBC ‘ripped’ her work for a double episode, titled ‘Betrayal’, first aired in November 2019 (Pictured: Emilia Fox and David Caves on Silent Witness)
She sued the BBC, as well as writer Virginia Gilbert, both of whom have denied using Dr. Molavi’s work to plot the episodes, which formed the ‘Silent Witness’ season 22 finale.
Judge Marcus Smith, granting the BBC’s request for summary judgment today (March 23), said he did not ‘consider that these alleged similarities are capable of giving rise to a moot inference of copying’.
The stories, including the scripts, draw their drama from themes that are “surprisingly few in number” and some consider the number of basic plots for the stories to be “no more than seven”, he said.
“Without wanting to delve too deep into literary criticism, which I’m not qualified to offer, the tropes that underlie our drama are limited by what drives the human condition, and a story based on revenge, jealousy, or power will share certain characteristics. basic with another similarly based story,’ he said.
‘Second, and related, for a copy inference to be moot, the similarities must go beyond these tropes, which are common not because of the copy, but because we all share the same human condition.
Dr Molvai said she saw ‘substantial similarities’ to her own work (pictured left to right: Velvy (Alastair Michael), Jack Hodgson (David Caves), Dr Nikki Alexander (Emilia Fox) and Dr. Gabriel Folukoya (Aki Omoshaybi)
‘The plot contained in the plaintiff’s works is very different from the plot contained in the defendants’ works.
“While both involve efforts by the protagonists to defeat an evil force, that’s where the similarities end.
“Considering the entire case alleged by Dr. Molavi, I conclude that there is no disputable basis for the contention that it must be inferred from this material that the BBC copied any part of the claimant’s works.
It follows that the BBC’s application is successful, both in relation to copyright infringement claims and in relation to breach of trust claims, which hinge on the same, undisputed assertions.
‘Summary judgment should be entered for the BBC.’