In May of 2021, Sophia Eggleston filed suit against FOX claiming that the executive producers of the television series, Empire, used her memoirs as the basis for a character in the series.
In 2009, Eggleston published a memoir detailing her experiences growing up in Detroit. She has a very colorful background having controlled a successful drug operation and eventually found redemption and purpose through religion.
Eggleston alleged that she met with Defendant Rita Grant Miller in 2011, and they discussed turning her book into a movie. Eggleston gave Miller a copy of her memoir, which Miller admitted she pitched to Defendant Lee Daniels, a well-known and successful movie director and the creator of Empire. Eggleston claims Daniels then went on to include the character “Cookie Lyon” in the show Empire, based entirely upon her memoir.
On September 13, 2021, FOX moved to dismiss the case. FOX’s main argument was that the life of a real person is a collection of “facts” which do not qualify for copyright protection. The Court noted that while this may be true as a general proposition, the manner in which the facts are expressed may be protectable under the Copyright Act. It is often stated that Copyright laws exist to protect the expression of ideas but not ideas. Here, the Court found that Eggleston’s chronological recitation of facts in her book was mostly “unprotectable,” even though certain elements of her presentation would be protectable, such as lines of dialogue or specific scenes in the book.
However, the Court found that Eggleston had not identified a specific scene, dialogue, or another specific creative element that Defendants had allegedly copied. Instead, Eggleston alleged that some facts from Eggleston’s life were used in the development of the “Cookie Lyon” character. Since the facts themselves are not copyrightable, the Court found that her complaint failed to establish a valid claim.
Even though the Court granted the motion to dismiss on August 16, 2022, the Court gave Eggleston an opportunity to amend her complaint.
Eggleston is represented by Henri O. Harmon of Great Lakes Legal Group PLLC.
The defendants are represented by Andrew J. Thomas and David R. Singer of Jenner & Block LLP and J. Michael Huget, and Sarah E. Waidelich of Honigman LLP.
The case is Eggleston v. Twentieth Century Fox Corp. et al., case number 2:21-cv-11171, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.
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