Responding earlier this week to an infringement lawsuit from Shannan Lynette Wynn and Pastor Lester Eugene Barrie this spring that alleged OWN megachurch drama Greenleaf was lifted from their never produced Justice & Glory treatment, the billionaire ex-talk show host and her lawyers wasted no words asking the federal court to dismiss the action.
“This is a frivolous lawsuit brought by plaintiffs who either do not understand
copyright law or who are pursuing it notwithstanding its manifest lack of merit, said the motion to chuck the claims against Winfrey, credited Greenleaf creator Craig Wright, OWN, Lionsgate, ABC and others (read it here). “While both stories involve a church leader and his family, the similarities end there.”
In their initial filing in April, Wynn and Pastor Barrie declared thqt they pitched Justice & Glory to ABC without getting a bite and then in 2014 to OWN where they warmed up some interest but no commitment of any type. Then the Oprah, Merle Dandridge, Keith David and Lynn Whitfield starring Greenleaf debuted in June 2016, and, well, let’s just say, they were mad as Hell.
“They didn’t even seek to hide the theft; they used the same character names, and copied verbatim unique and novel storylines, themes, subplots and the overall tone of the show,” the April 19 jury seeking complaint proclaimed. It was a potentially expensive proclamation too, with the paperwork desiring $150,000 for “each act of infringement” plus an injunction against the two seasons and counting series.
Now, a few months later, Oprah and the other defendants are saying something doesn’t seem right from that pulpit, if you know what I mean?
“Tellingly, Plaintiffs do not attach their treatments to the Complaint,” the motion to dismiss filed on July 9 mocks. “If they did, it would be readily apparent that the lawsuit has absolutely no merit. In a motion to dismiss, however, Defendants can correct this omission and present the works at issue to the Court so that it can determine, at the very outset of a case, whether the action can proceed.”
With ABC chirping in to in a separate but similar filing (read it here), Team O have asked for an August 6 hearing on the motion in front of U.S. District Court Judge John Walter in L.A. However, if yesterday’s document is any roadmap, it is pretty clear where they plan on going in that hearing and how fast they’re going to take to get there.
“Significantly, there is no character in Greenleaf remotely similar to the
protagonist in Justice & Glory – white, atheist, U.S. Senator Deeds who seeks to destroy Bishop Barrington, while at the same time having a torrid sexual affair with the Bishop’s 22-year old daughter,” the 25-page filing by attorneys at the heavyweight Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman & Machtinger LLP hit out for Oprah, Lionsgate, Wright Harpo Productions and OWN. “Similarly, there is no character in Justice & Glory remotely similar to the protagonist in Greenleaf – Grace Greenleaf, an African-American, single mother, in her 40’s, who returns home after 20 years and forces her family to confront the fact that her uncle is a serial child molester.”
As a rule, copyright infringement suits like this rarely pass muster with the courts. While stories of Hollywood sticky fingers play into almost everyone’s clearest cynicism of the industry, establishing direct ripoffs can be hard when it comes to convincing judges. Even more so, in this case, if the projects in question don’t seemingly share primary characters … just sayin’.
Wynn and Paster Barrie are represented by L.A.’s The Lowell Firm in their action. ABC and Ayo Davis’ part of the defense is being handled by Jeffrey Valle and Susan Klein of L.A.’s Valle Makoff LLP.