U.S. Third Circuit - The FindLaw 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Court Hears 'Empire' TV Copyright Case

Maybe Martin Luther King, Jr. could help her win the case, attorney Mary Bogan thought.

The nation had recently celebrated the life of the great civil rights leader, and his words were still in the air. "The time is always right to do the right thing," Bogan quoted to the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals.

Nice speech, but not really relevant? According to reports, Bogan's argument over the "Empire" show might have been a little awkward.

Two Shows

Bogan represents Clayton Prince Tanskley, an actor who says creators of the Fox drama stole his idea. A trial judge didn't think so and dismissed his case last year.

Tanskley appealed, and his lawyer was having trouble arguing the case at the Third Circuit. Two of the three judges on the panel basically grilled her.

"What are you saying that the District Court did wrong besides rule against you?" Judge D. Michael Fisher asked.

He said the trial judge spent three days hearing the case, and found that Tanksley's project, called "Cream," and "Empire" were "dramatically different." Judge Michael Chagares chimed in, pointing out that Bogan had her chance to show the similarities at trial.

One Scene

Bogan said one scene in both shows portrayed a man being shot in the street after he urinated. Double awkward.

The case has not gone well almost from the beginning. Tanskley sued in 2016, saying Lee Daniels created "Empire" after Tanksley gave him the idea following a pitch contest in 2008.

"In both shows, the male protagonist is forced to contend with family members who are claiming entitlement and scheming to take over 50% of his record label business, and exploiting his children, in the effort," his complaint said.

Judge Joel Slomsky, however, said the overall plot lines of the shows were too general to support a copyright claim.

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