The blockbuster created by Lee Daniels and Danny Strong has been the target of a number of lawsuits since its big debut in January, but at least one of those cases is getting the dismissive back of Fox’s legal hand. Calling Empire “a modern take on Shakespeare’s King Lear,” lawyers for the network on Thursday filed a motion to dismiss the copyright infringement lawsuit Ron Newt started in April – and the network is going for the jugular.
“Plaintiff claims that the hit Fox network television series Empire is substantially similar to his Works, and asserts claims for copyright infringement and breach of implied contract,” says the October 15 motion (read it here), which calls Newt a “self-described ‘gangsta pimp’ ” whose work “include detailed descriptions of cold-blooded killings, dismemberments, and crude descriptions of Plaintiff’s sexual escapades in graphic detail that would never be shown on network television.” Newt calls his tale that of a black man rising with “his three sons from the ghetto and a life of crime into the world of the music industry.”
Essentially, Newt alleges that a long meeting he had with now Empire co-lead Terrence Howard in 2010 where he told the actor his life story became the basis for the show. It’s a bit of a reach to begin with. For one, Howard was brought on board after co-lead Taraji P. Henson was cast and an Empire pilot was already written. For two … well, as the Fox filing adds, “in contrast to Plaintiff’s crudely written, violent, regretful autobiographical Works, Fox’s Empire is a dialogue-rich, soap opera-styled family drama, a fictional account of a close-knit family and their music empire…” Fox also notes that the music biz part of Newt’s story is relativity small compared to his depictions of life as a “San Francisco-area pimp and drug dealer.”
Long story short: “Plaintiff’s Works are not substantially similar in protectable expression to Empire, which dooms his copyright claim,” says Linda Burrow and Kelly Perigoe of LA’s Caldwell Leslie & Proctor on behalf of Fox and co-defendants Daniels, Strong, Howard and Malcolm Spellman. “Because Plaintiff fails to allege that he disclosed his Works to Defendants Daniels, Strong, or Spellman, he also fails to allege that these Defendants voluntarily accepted the Works under circumstances implying an agreement,” they add of Newt’s amended complaint filed this summer.
Fox seeks a November 24 hearing at the federal courthouse in downtown L.A. on its motion.