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NOT EVERYONE WOULD immediately recognize Clueless (Amy Heckerling, 1995) as an adaptation of Jane Austen's novel, Emma (1816). Indeed, parallels between the two stories--involving situations, characters, and their actions--are not necessarily evident upon first viewing. However, enough people have noted parallels that the connection between Clueless and Emma is almost common knowledge.
You wouldn't know it from the movie's credits. Writer/ director Amy Heckerling doesn't officially acknowledge Austen. Watching Clueless isn't like one of those Sunday night television drama experiences, where Jane Austen's Persuasion (Roger Michell, 1995) or Jane Austen's Emma (Diarmuid Lawrence, 1996) or something equally obvious flashes on the screen so that we'll know we're being offered a bit of 'high culture' with our entertainment. It's even possible that, among the people who fit the target market for Clueless, many more will have seen other films by Heckerling (such as Fast Times at Ridgemont High  or Look Who's Talking ) than will have read Austen's novel.
If Heckerling didn't bother to credit Jane Austen's Emma as the source for Clueless, then isn't Heckerling guilty of copyright infringement or plagiarism? Perhaps Heckerling doesn't credit Jane Austen as the source of her film because the film isn't really very much like the novel. As an adaptation of Emma, is Clueless faithful to either the letter or the spirit of the original? In the end, does it matter whether we recognize a connection between Clueless and Emma, as long as whatever film or book we see or read gives us pleasure?
The answer to the first question above is no, there's no copyright infringement in the adaptation of the novel on film. Copyright has run out on Austen's novels, which means that no one has to be paid for the rights to her material. This financial incentive partially explains why film and television producers, especially Granada and the BBC in the 1970s and 1980s, have been fond of adapting them for big screen, television, and educational markets.
These early adaptations relied for their production values on the beauty of the English heritage houses where filming usually took place amid country gardens and well-appointed rooms, a strategy that would generally cost less than trying to recreate settings on studio soundstages. In addition to beauty, these heritage locations contributed to the attempt at authentic reproduction of the novels' settings. The educational markets were pretty much guaranteed, so that a return was certain if production costs could be kept down. These adaptations spent minimally on actors, …