On August 1, 2018, the Ninth Circuit revived a lawsuit in which the plaintiff claimed Fox took the television show “Empire” from the plaintiff’s “treatment.” A 2-1 vote of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a trial judge’s decision to dismiss allegations against 20th Century Fox.
The appeals court decided to reinstate the lawsuit after finding pro se plaintiff, Jon Astor-White, should have been given another chance to plead his case against Fox claiming Fox infringed a six-page treatment titled “King Solomon.” The majority stated, “it was ‘virtually unheard of’ for a federal judge to dismiss a copyright case on the pleadings without any discovery or the advice of experts…Neither the district court nor the dissent acknowledged the plaintiff Astor-White’s treatment at the time it was written.”
Tie-breaking 9th Circuit Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw stated as follows:
“Diversity still has a long way to go, a lot has changed on primetime television in the 11 years since Astor-White wrote the treatment for King Solomon. In the decades prior, black families were mostly represented, if at all, on sitcoms…Both King Solomon and Empire are about a black record business mogul with complex family dynamics and who competes with a rival record company owned by a white man involved in organized crime… The district court dismissed this claim on the basis that the storyline in King Solomon and its many similarities with Empire were generic. However, judges have no particular expertise in determining what is and is not generic in cases like these, where the judge could not have seen a similar show at the time it was written.”
The case is Jon Astor-White v. Daniel Strong, et al., case number 16-55565, at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
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