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Judge Rules In Tyler Perry's Favor In 'Good Deeds' Story Theft Lawsuit

by Tambay A. Obenson
August 22, 2013 5:08 PM
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In the last 12 months, Tyler Perry has been sued twice by others writers claiming that he essentially stole material from their works: the first suit was made public in November of last year, when author Terri Donald, who writes under the non de plume TLO Red'ness, and who claimed that Perry lifted the premise for Good Deeds from her 2007 novel Bad Apples Can Be Good Fruit. The second happened earlier this year, when screenwriter William James filed a lawsuit against Perry, claiming that the premise for his film most recent directorial effort, Temptation, was stolen from James' 2009 screenplay Lovers Kill.

Both were seeking damages and onscreen credit within each film.

No word yet on where the latter lawsuit stands, but, announced earlier today, a New York federal judge dismissed Terri Donald's 2012 claim that the film Good Deeds was a rip-off of her 2007 novel, Bad Apples Can Be Good Fruit.

In her suit, Donald stated that she sent a copy of her book to Perry's production company, 34th Street Films, before Good Deeds became a film, and she apparently believes that he lifted ideas for the film from her novel.

Reasons given by the judge include the fact that "copyright law only protects expression and not ideas, and that the only similarity between the two works was that they both concerned a romance between a wealthy black man and a woman who was experiencing hardship."

This is something that I've found that many content creators don't fully understand.

As Tom Ferber, who represented Perry and Lionsgate in the suit, says: "If anything, I see more plaintiffs crawling out of the woodwork [today] than 10, 20 years ago... Everyone thinks that if they have an idea and there is something else like it, it must be copyright infringement."

Might Perry have been inspired by Donald's novel, assuming he read it after she claims she sent it to his production company? I don't know. But even if he did and it led to him thinking up the idea for Good Deeds, there's nothing Donald can claim here - at least, nothing legal. 

I've never been high on sending one's work to production companies, ESPECIALLY if it's unsolicited, which is what appears to have been the case here. That's why you'll find that just about every production house will explicitly state on its website, or other contact materials, that unsolicited scripts, films, etc, aren't accepted. 

When an unsolicited submission is received, it is generally returned to the sender with a letter state that the script has not been read, and also advising that the only scripts that will be considered are those that are sent through an agent.

They do this because, first they don't want to be inundated with script submissions (although I assume they are anyway). And second, and maybe most important, there are liability concerns - you know, like lawsuits; and production houses obviously want to avoid them at all costs, given how sue-happy we tend to be in this country.

Lawsuits like Donald's (which was demanding $225,000 in damages, plus an injunction requiring the Perry's company to add a credit for her book in both the opening and closing credits of the film, as well as provide a complete and accurate account of the movie's box office take), will likely almost always be ruled in favor of the defendants, who probably have highly-paid and skilled lawyers who know how to manipulate the system on their client's behalf.

Here's a description of Donald's novel:

Cory is an above-average guy who plans to deal with Cheryl's paranoia while concealing a past of his own. Cheryl's big secret finally unfolds, with a shocking twist that decides the fate of their relationship. But, with the intimate attraction and confessions, will they survive the secret?

As Donald adds, the novel is about a woman's struggle to let go of past aggressions and evils and move on to a promising future.

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  • Miles Ellison | August 24, 2013 7:30 PMReply

    I'm no fan of Tyler Perry, but accusing him of stealing these generic ideas is like accusing people who breathe of stealing air.

  • IGBO | August 23, 2013 4:11 AMReply

    As unimaginative and derivative as Tyler Perry's films are, as a writer, I would be ashamed to file suit against him. If anybody should be suing him, it should be the estates of Frank Capra, Preston Sturges, Billy Wilder, Douglas Sirk, and all of the other classic Hollywood filmmakers that he has appropriated (either directly or indirectly).

  • Rocket | August 23, 2013 6:16 PM

    Most of what comes out of Hollywood is redone. If it is not a sequel or prequel is an obvious rip from another work. Tyler is not unique in his unimaginative scope. In fact, story lines and structure are very predictable within certain genres. Action films, Romcoms, and the endless parade of comic book films are all very predictable.

  • urbanauteur | August 23, 2013 10:42 AM

    He also "subliminally" stiffen from _Kenji Mizoguchi & Rainer W. Fassbinder.

  • Marie | August 23, 2013 9:39 AM

    That's what I was thinking. These lawsuits only prove that not only are Perry's films derivative but that the accusers's works are derivative, too! Perry and his accusers need to follow the advice that one reviewer said about "For Colored Girls"--there needs to be more "creative sweat." Because that description of Donald's novel is one of the laziest, generic things I've ever read.

  • GoldAion | August 23, 2013 3:51 AMReply

    I love this chart! So, in 2012 the most black films were released from

  • GoldAion | August 23, 2013 3:21 AMReply

    I love this chart! So, in 2012 the most black films were released from

  • LVFLG | August 22, 2013 5:59 PMReply

    To put it succinctly - ideas are not subject to copyright law. We all have ideas and even ideas that I similar and/or very similar; b/c [ahem] we are all human...there really is a kind of universal cauldron that we draw from. It's easy to "claim" - but hard to prove unless there are enough proof beyond the mere "idea." Think narrative structure and dialogue.

  • LVFLG | August 22, 2013 6:01 PM

    To put it succinctly - ideas are not subject to copyright law. We all have ideas and even ideas that I similar and/or very similar; b/c [ahem] we are all human...there really is a kind of universal cauldron that we draw from. It's easy to "claim" - but hard to prove unless there is enough proof beyond the mere "idea." Think narrative structure and dialogue.

  • LeonRaymond | August 22, 2013 5:52 PMReply

    I’m so sick of hearing about this shit, this is of course horrible but why, why do we keep on sending our gifted materials out to folk under the cover of darkness. I don’t care if TP is the most honest person out there or not, you have to be a much smarter than this. As writers, producers, etc. Do not send your scripts, project ideas, treatments, snippets of ideas out to the wolf pen if you don’t want this to happen. Of course the judge is going to dismiss the case outright, from what I see in like this being the 33rd case I have heard of in which a judge dismisses the case of theft of scripted works. I have proof that I can offer you off line of 5 films that were in the market place that were stolen having seen the original script. it happen to me big time on a script that is now a well famous Vampire franchise. After that I learned my lessons and do the smart thing ( 1) After you have written your excellent script get a well-known producer to come aboard. Make sure that attachment is well known.

    (2) Get well known Actor attachments LOI’S at once start your search for funding through your well known producer and then attach well known producer number #2 keep your search for money and the efforts of the producers well known or publicized. They won’t steal what is on its way to being a project that will go into production or on its way. You can do the registration of WGA if you want to as that won’t stop any theft same goes for Copyright. Do not send your stuff out there to such and such producer thinking they got your back and after you have not heard from them after 5 months and thinking you’re still in good shape. You have to build your own tribe and own the project. I am sorry it sounds cold and crude but I am hearing far too many of these stories. This your creation and what good is it if no one knows you wrote and it got stolen and it got produced by someone else without your credit. You will spend forever in court when you could be home writing something greater than the script they stole. And the only one who will get paid is your attorney!

  • No | August 22, 2013 5:48 PMReply

    Many writers don't really understand that you don't own ideas under copyright laws; you only own the unique way they were expressed.

  • LeonRaymond | August 22, 2013 6:03 PM

    @NO -You are 450% Correct and this will keep on happening unless folks like your self and others school writers cause it's now happening at a higher rate than ever and I feel sad cause the minute your heading to court your heading against large incoming waves!!

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