In 2012 Cabin in the Woods, a film written by Drew Goddard and directed by Joss Whedon, was released in theaters. Five years earlier, someone named Peter J. Gallagher self-published a novel titled The Little White Trip: A Night in the Pines. Both these stories were about traditional slasher-flick setups that are turned upside-down, and some of the characters have similar names. Now Gallagher has filed a lawsuit against Goddard and Whedon for $10 million, charging they stole his novel, changed bits and pieces of it and released the movie as their own creation.
Does the suit have a leg to stand on? There’s an excellent analysis by someone who’s examined both the movie and the book posted here, and he mainly points out that, while the two stories share similarities, they are similarities grounded in the tropes that both the book and the movie were made to mock. There’s going to be a group of friends, they’re going to be young and irresponsible and they’re going to go to an abandoned place in the woods where they get offed one by one. Then the twists come in, and the similarities there could easily be a coincidence.
There is also the matter of availability for the book to get ripped off in the first place. Gallagher’s novel was self-published and didn’t get a wide distribution. Although that distribution was within Southern California, in the same region of the country where Goddard and Whedon live and play, proving they came in contact with a copy at any point in those five years’ difference — crucial for a guilty verdict — would be excessively difficult.
In short, it’s unlikely Gallagher’s suit will ever make it to court. And it’s just as well, because people threaten suits like this all the time and just one winning would set a nasty precedent.