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.