Fox Can't Escape Lawsuit Alleging 'New Girl' Was Stolen

Stephanie Counts and Shari Gold claim copyright infringement on a work shopped through WME.
Ray Mickshaw/FOX

A judge has ruled that a rewrite of a lawsuit against 21st Century Fox over the sitcom New Girl should survive a motion to dismiss.

The complaint comes from Stephanie Counts and Shari Gold, who allege New Girl derives from their proposals for a television show or movie that would have been titled Square One. The two plaintiffs are suing Fox, William Morris Endeavor, showrunner Liz Meriwether and executive producer Peter Chernin for allegedly lifting their materials after they shopped their script through WME and proposed Zooey Deschanel for the lead.

In October, U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson couldn’t make sense of what was alleged to have been infringed and so he decided to reject an “ambiguous” lawsuit.

On Wednesday, after Counts and Gold tried again with an amended lawsuit, Wilson came to a new conclusion.

“While Plaintiffs’ [second amended complaint] is largely the same as their [first amended complaint], it contains a few significant changes,” he writes. “Though it still mentions all four versions of Square One, the SAC now specifies that Plaintiffs allege that Square One 2008 and Square One 2009 were copied by Defendants to create the New Girl pilot script titled ‘Chicks and Dicks’ and the first season of New Girl.”

For now, this means that the case will examine early episodes of New Girl to see if it is substantially similar to plaintiffs’ works, described as being based upon “Stephanie’s real-life experience when she discovered her husband was having an affair, leading her to move into a three-man bachelor pad.”

Since it’s only a motion to dismiss, Judge Wilson is not analyzing the merits of the claim. Rather, he’s assuming truth in plaintiffs’ favor and examining whether the claims support a legal action. “Though Gold’s and Counts’s SAC lacks mathematical precision, it is sufficiently clear to notify Defendants of the nature of their claim,” he writes.

In an earlier motion, Fox stated that “the only similarities between the works arise from general, non-protectable ideas.”

Originally, the plaintiffs also brought an implied-in-fact contract claim and a quantum meruit claim based on what they believed was promised to them when shopping around their script. In October, the judge threw out these claims as being outside the statute of limitations and being preempted by the Copyright Act. Today, he again dismisses an attempt to revive the claims, though he’s giving Counts and Gold one more shot to cure deficiencies.

Email: Eriq.Gardner@THR.com
Twitter: @eriqgardner

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