Television Producer Lee Daniels Wins Copyright Case Over 'Empire'
Clayton Prince Tanksley, a struggling actor and producer, thought he had hit.
He pitched a story idea in a contest, and then saw a similar show make it to the screen. "Empire," a Fox Television production, was a hit.
Unfortunately for the aspiring producer in Tanksley v. Daniels, it was not based on his idea. Not even close, said the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals.
"Not Substantially Similar"
Tanksley sued in 2016, claiming producer and director Lee Daniels stole his story for "Empire." A trial judge dismissed the lawsuit, and Tanksley appealed.
At oral arguments, his attorney tried to point out similarities in the plots. It didn't go well, and the Third Circuit affirmed.
"As a preliminary matter, we note that the shared premise of the shows -- an African-American, male record executive -- is unprotectable," Judge D. Michael Fisher wrote in a unanimous decision. "These characters fit squarely within the class of 'prototypes' to which copyright protection has never extended."
The appeals court said the shows' "characters, settings and storylines" were "not substantially similar."
The plots in "Empire" and "Cream" were based on black record executives with diseases, but little more.
In "Empire," the protagonist has ALS. In "Cream," the main character has herpes. Not the same, the appeals panel said.
"'Random similarities' are insufficient to establish substantial similarity," Fisher wrote. "After all, both Mozart and Metallica composed in E minor."
- 'Empire' Defeats Copyright Infringement Appeal at 3rd Circuit (Reuters)
- FINRA Arbitration Rule Beats Forum Selection Clause (FindLaw's U.S. Third Circuit Blog)
- Ex-Congressman Wins Reversal of Bribery Convictions, But... (FindLaw's U.S. Third Circuit Blog)
You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.