Fox Wins Dismissal in ‘Pimp' Claims Over ‘Empire' Copyright

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By Peter Leung

July 28 — Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp.'s popular TV show “Empire” does not infringe the copyrights in a documentary about a self-styled “pimp” and singing group manager, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California ruled July 28 ( Newt v. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp. , 2016 BL 242660, C.D. Cal., No. 15-cv-02778-CBM-JPRx, 7/27/16 ).

The victory for Fox comes in one of several lawsuits brought by plaintiffs alleging copyright infringement over the show.

In Ron Newt's case, he alleged that the television series “Empire” infringed his copyrights in the screenplay, DVD and book about his own life. According to Newt, “Empire” has various aspects including plot, themes, mood, pace and characters derived from his works, which are about his life as a prostitution ring leader and his entry into the music industry. Fox moved to dismiss the claims, arguing that there are no substantial similarities between the works as a matter of law.

The court agreed with Fox and granted the motion to dismiss. For example, it found that while there are some similarities in that both parties' works feature characters involved in crime and music, there are also differences. For example, in the Fox show, the lead character's wife goes to prison for her husband's drug dealing. However, in the plaintiff's story, the lead character's wife goes to prison for gun possession.

Flashbacks to Life of Crime

Also, the plaintiff's works feature flashbacks showing the lead character as a crime boss, while flashbacks in “Empire” show the lead character as a small-time criminal. Such differences mean there is no substantial similarity between the plots, the court ruled.

Newt's copyright claims based on other aspects similarly fail, it said. The moods of the works are not substantially similar because, for example, while Newt's works are frequently dark, violent and sexually graphic, “Empire” has some violent scenes that are not the focus of the show.

Judge Consuelo Marshall granted the motion. Abrams Coate LLP represented Newt. Caldwell Leslie and Proctor PC represented Fox.

To contact the reporter on this story: Peter Leung in Washington at pleung@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mike Wilczek at mwilczek@bna.com

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