3rd Circuit Rules on “Empire” copyright infringement

The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals released a ruling last week on whether the hit TV show Empire infringed on the copyright of a Philadelphia television writer. In Tanksley v. Daniels, the court ultimately ruled that there was no infringement in this case because there was no actual copying or material appropriation. The background of the case involves the claim of a local Philadelphia writer that the show Empire was largely based on a script that he had written and previously pitched to the executive responsible for empire.

Empire and its similarities

The facts that gave rise to the case are as follows: Mr. Tanksley met with a Fox executive and pitched him a TV show about a black music mogul/executive who is struggling with family drama and a personal health crisis. The Fox executive expressed initial interest, but subsequently turned down the script. A few years later, Empire premiered, exploring some of the same themes.

The court declined to find infringement in this case, despite the similarities. One of the primary reasons for this was that many of the alleged similarities were scènes à faire, and thus, not copyrightable. Scènes à faire are plot elements flowing predictably from a general idea. For example, drunk college students in a movie about college would be scènes à faire. It would be absurd for someone to claim that all college movies were based off the first college movie ever made just because there were drunk college or kids going to class. Instead the court noted that there were two ways to demonstrate infringement. First, by demonstrating actual copying. That is to demonstrate that a unique element that is capable of being protected was actually lifted from the original work and used in the copy. Second, to demonstrate material appropriation. That is to demonstrate that the work taken as a whole by the average laymen observer would be perceived to be a copy of the original.

Interesting Legal Developments in Tanksley

The court rejected that expert witnesses were necessary to further develop the record in determining whether there was infringement. Rather the court noted that the average observer could tell if a painting was copied, if a song was ripped from an original, or if a TV show’s plot had been lifted entirely from another. The court went to great lengths to demonstrate, in narrative form, the plots of the two shows side by side demonstrating that the similarities were superficial at best. Rather most of the local producer’s claim was based on the existence of prototypes, such as a black record executive who is struggling with family drama. A black record executive, the court concluded, is a classic example of a “prototype” that cannot be copyrighted, and family drama would an example of scènes à faire. Both of these are unprotectable elements and not subject to copyright protection.

Another unique element about this case is that the 3rd Circuit affirmed a dismissal on a 12(b)(6) motion. 12(b)(6)—dismissal for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted—is usually only granted where there is no need to develop any testimony or other facts on the record. The court said it was no error for the district court to have looked at the two TV shows referenced in determining the 12(b)(6) motion. Ordinarily anything outside of the pleadings is not considered in a rule 12 motion, but the court ruled that where the Complaint is based on two works of art, those works of art could be considered implicitly a part of the Complaint as if they were attached themselves.

Conclusion

This case is part of a growing national trend establishing that copyright infringement claims that do not have merit can be dealt with on 12(b)(6) motions. The ability to dismiss the Complaint earlier in the process will likely have more defendants fighting aggressively and early. This is good news for large companies who are often the target of copyright trolls, who can now have their cases dispensed with more efficiently. This case also lays out the “prototype” exceptions to copyright protection in a helpful way, and will likely be cited for this proposition for years to come.

Insurance after a car accident

After a car accident, one of the most difficult things to figure out is whether your insurance or someone else’s insurance has to pay for the medical bills you’ve accumulated. Even if your insurance is paying for your bills, it can be tough to know if their “offer” to settle the case is sufficient. When an insurance company offers you a settlement for your injuries, should you take it? There are several factors to consider when you’re evaluating an offer from a car insurance company offering to settle your personal injury claims.

1. How Bad are your Injuries?

The most important inquiry in determining whether a personal injury settlement offer is appropriate is to ask how bad your injuries are. No injury is a good thing, but obviously, some physical injuries are worse than others. How long did it take you to heal? How long did you seek treatment for your personal injuries? Did you miss work or lose your job because of your injuries? In general, you are usually entitled to recover for your medical bills, your lost wages, and your pain and suffering resulting from the vehicle accident. Determining how bad these were will help determine whether an offer from your insurance company is fair.

2. Are you completely better?

One of the most important questions to ask yourself is whether you’re completely better. You should generally not accept a settlement for personal injuries from a car or other accident if you are not 100% recovered. Sometimes, the most serious injuries are lurking under the surface. If you’re still experiencing pain and lack of mobility after treatment, you should first speak to your doctor about other treatment options. Once you accept a settlement for a car accident, you are done. You will be asked to sign a release, and you won’t be able to come back for more money if it turns out the injuries are more serious than you thought. So, don’t settle if you’re not better yet! Or, if you’re statute of limitations is about to run out (see below), you may need to file suit to preserve your rights to compensation.

3. When does your statute of limitations run out?

The statute of limitations is a law that sets the time limit on when you can bring a lawsuit to recover for your injuries. You should consult an attorney about your particular case to determine when the statute runs out on you, thus limiting your right to recover for your injuries. If your statute is about to run, this will impact whether you file a lawsuit or accept an offer to settle your claim. The statute of limitations can also motivate the insurance company to make a better offer–but that’s only the case if they’re afraid you’ll file suit.

Conclusion: Call for a Free Consultation on your Injuries

In conclusion, if you’ve been injured in an accident–whether it involved a car, bus, motorcycle, bike, or any other vehicle–call us for a free consultation on your case. We can help you determine whether a settlement offered you by a car insurance company is right for your case, or whether you should fight for more compensation. Whether you were injured in an accident here in Berks County, or anywhere in Pennsylvania, Maryland or New Jersey, we can help you determine what to do next.