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7/18/2011
Source: Law360
 

'Modern Family' Didn't Rip Off Writer's Pilot: Judge

A New York federal judge on Thursday tossed a writer's suit alleging the producers of “Modern Family” plagiarized his pilot script to develop ideas for the hit ABC television show, finding that the concepts of the two works were not substantially similar.

Judge Paul A. Crotty concurred with New York Magistrate Judge James C. Francis IV's report and recommendation that script writer Martin Alexander had failed to demonstrate a substantial similarity between his pilot and the premise of “Modern Family” in his copyright suit against ABC Inc., television producers Steven Levitan and Christopher Lloyd, and other media producers and distributors.

The other defendants were News Corp., News Corp. owner Rupert Murdoch, Disney Enterprises Inc., Fox Entertainment Group Inc., Picture Day Productions Inc., Levitan and Lloyd Productions Inc., CBS Broadcasting Inc., Apple Inc., Hulu LLC, Amazon.com Inc., Blockbuster Inc., IMDB.com Inc., British Sky Broadcasting Group PLC, RTL Group, Sky Italia SRL and Foxtel.

Judge Crotty agreed with Judge Francis' opinion that “no reasonable jury could find the 'total concept and feel' of 'Modern Family'” adhered to that of “Loony Ben,” Alexander's sitcom pilot.

“Loony Ben” was co-written by Diane Dowgwillow, who was not a party in the lawsuit.

Alexander claimed that producers Levitan and Lloyd channeled the plot, characters, setting and format from his 2006 script and treatment for “Loony Ben” into the ABC sitcom, which debuted in September 2009.

The premise of "Loony Ben" centers around a character who suffers from various psychological ailments as he interacts with various members of his family, according to the complaint.

In his amended pro se complaint, filed in December 2010, Alexander describes “Looney Ben” as depicting “a large, nontraditional, dysfunctional, contemporary American family that includes individuals of various races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, ages and marital statuses,” a concept that he claims was stolen by Levitan and Lloyd for “Modern Family.”

"Modern Family" is a sitcom that takes place in the Los Angeles suburbs. It features a large, diverse ensemble cast.

The television producers learned of Alexander's idea when he pitched his script to various outlets, according to the complaint. They “shortly thereafter ominously formed defendant Picture Day Productions," it said.

The producers and media groups moved to dismiss Alexander's suit in January. Judge Francis issued his report and recommendation for dismissal in May.

Alexander's complaint included claims for copyright infringement, idea misappropriation and defamation. He sought declaratory and injunctive relief, damages, attorneys' fees and criminal sanctions against the defendants.

Alexander and representatives for the defendants did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday.

The defendants are represented by Dale Margaret Cendali, Melanie Bradley and Joshua Levicoff Simmons of Kirkland & Ellis LLP.

The case is Alexander v. Murdoch et al., case number 1:10-cv-05613, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

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