HBO prevails in copyright infringement lawsuit over the show “Ballers”

Earlier this week, the Central District Court of California dismissed a lawsuit brought by screenwriters Everette Silas and Sherri Littleton (“Plaintiffs”) against HBO, Dwayne Johnson and Mark Wahlberg, among others (“Defendants”).[1] As discussed in a previous blog entry, Plaintiffs brought a lawsuit against the Defendants claiming that Defendants committed copyright infringement by producing the HBO show “Ballers,” as a result of alleged similarities from Plaintiffs’ trailer, screenplay and treatment entitled “Off Season.”[2] The Plaintiffs’ Complaint alleged that the show “Ballers” contains several similarities to Plaintiffs’ “Off Season,” namely the physical appearance of characters and their vehicles, plot, scenes and story lines.[3] The Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the Complaint arguing that, while Defendants had access to Plaintiffs’ “Off Season,” the two works are not sufficiently similar to permit a finding of copyright infringement.[4]

The Plaintiffs attempted to have the Court limit its analysis of the similarities between the two works by only considering the script for “Ballers” instead of the actual television series.[5] The Court rejected Plaintiffs’ position and instead took into consideration the “Ballers” television series.[6] The Court compared the plot, setting, characters, theme, mood, dialogue and pace of the two works to see if “Ballers” was substantially similar to Plaintiffs’ “Off Season.”[7] In doing so the Court found that two works were not substantially similar noting that while there were generic similarities in the two works, several of the specific details were different, namely that the main star of “Ballers” is a retired football player and involved in a wealth management group, while the main star in “Off Season” is an active football player and is a nightclub owner, even though both of the works take place in Miami, Florida and are set in the football offseason.[8] The Court then granted Defendants’ motion to dismiss the Complaint and found that the dismissal would be with prejudice since the defects in Plaintiffs’ Complaint could not be cured by amendment.

Please contact our office if you have any questions regarding the information in this article.

Daniel Devine, Esq.
Santucci Priore, P.L.

[1] See, Silas, et. al. v. Home Box Office, Inc., et. al., No. CV-15-9732-GW (FFMx) , at Docket Entry No. 32 (July 25, 2016).
[2] Id.
[3] Id.
[4] Id.
[5] Id.
[6] Id.
[7] Id.
[8] Id.

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