Television Lawsuit Profile: The Six Feet Under Case
After Six Feet Under aired its pilot episode over 10 years ago, an immediate copyright infringement case followed suit.
The plaintiff claimed that the storyline closely resembled an existing script that never made it into production. The show’s producers refuted the claim and a legal battle ensued.
Though the judge ruled in favor of the Six Feet Under producers, the lawsuit remains a shining example of the importance of procuring an annotation guide and following up with script clearance.
According to an article featured on Harvard Law’s blog, the Six Feet Under case is a testament to how screenplays are often similar, which gives reasonable cause for a lawsuit:
“It’s possible to borrow a lot of elements from another work and still avoid infringement. Both shows involved family-run funeral parlors where the father dies and an estranged brother returns home to run, and save, the business.
However, the specifics of how the two works adapted and implemented these plot elements diverged widely, and this prevented ‘Six Feet Under’ from infringing.”
The takeaway is that there is a fine line to tread in screenwriting.
Despite your best intentions and commitment to originality, the bottom line is that there will be similarities between your project and another.
As the Harvard Law profile states, you can write a screenplay / teleplay about a British student who discovers he has magical abilities—and your work will not resemble Harry Potter.
However, when you give that character a lightning-shaped scar and glasses, you are more likely to lose the lawsuit.
For a moment, think about your script ideas.
Chances are that there is some similarity between your vision and that of an existing project. This does not mean plagiarism or a contrived work; however, it does mean you are at risk of a copyright lawsuit.
Even if the case is completely frivolous and unwarranted, television producers and filmmakers are subject to spending a fortune on lawyer and court fees.
While your E & O insurance exists to protect you from these financial firestorms, the carrier must give the green light before your project hits screens. This is where script clearance comes into play.
The Clearance Lab provides quick and comprehensive script clearance reporting to help provide legal protection against…
- Possible copyright claims.
- Trademark infringement.
- Publicity and privacy issues.
- Defamation suits.
- Any number of obscure legal exposures that can pop up in a script