Showtime’s ‘Billions’ Beats Copyright Suit

Steven T. Lowe

On July 12, 2021, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the United States District Court of the Southern District of New York’s finding that Showtime’s series “Billions” did not rip off a book about the psychology of risk in financial markets.

Denise K. Shull, author of the book “Market Mind Games: A Radical Psychology of Investing, Trading, and Risk” claimed Showtime and its parent company CBS (collectively “Defendants”) committed copyright infringement by virtue of the Defendants’ exploitation of the television show, “Billions.”

Shull argued that the show’s character Dr. Rhoades was a copycat of the fictionalized version of herself from her book, but the court found that Shull cannot copyright basic ideas, such as the notion that proper diet, sleep, and exercise can improve personal and professional performance.

The court also held that the similarities between Dr. Rhoades in “Billions” and the fictional version of Shull in “Market Mind Games” were their gender, hair, race, and occupation; however, the court found those similarities were generalized and non-protectable. In the Second Circuit’s decision, the Justices found that “Market Mind Games” is an academic book that utilizes fictional stories to illustrate Shull’s ideas; in contrast, “Billions” is an entirely fictional serial television drama that seeks to portray ‘the drama that lies in the age-old trifecta of money, power, and sex.”

Shull also argued that the lower court erred in doing a “quick internet search” to establish that there are “numerous in-house performance coaches who are currently on Wall Street.” Additionally, she alleged that Sorkin, the show’s co-producer, asked her to help develop the character in 2015, but she declined.

However, the Second Circuit said that, even if the lower court erred in doing a “quick internet search,” it properly dismissed the copyright infringement claims here since “the works at issue are not substantially similar, dooming these claims as a matter of law.”

Shull and The Rethink Group are represented by Avram Solomon Turkel of Borstein Turkel PC and Jonathan E. Moskin of Foley & Lardner LLP.

Showtime, CBS, and the individual defendants are represented by Elizabeth Anne McNamara, Meenakshi Krishnan, and Rachel F. Strom of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP.

The case is Shull v. Sorkin et al., case number 20-3529, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

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