NBC Beats Writer Who Sued Claiming 'My Name Is Earl' Was Stolen

On Thursday, Ninth Circuit upheld lower court ruling that dismissed writer's copyright lawsuit.

NBC has prevailed in a lawsuit brought by a writer who claimed that the network stole a screenplay to create the hit series My Name is Earl.

Mark Gable sued NBC Universal in 2008, claiming the network took copyrighted elements from his screenplay Karma to create Earl, the Jason Lee comedy that aired for four seasons on the network. The suit detailed similarities between Karma and the pilot episode of the series, including a main character who wins the lottery and attempts to use the money to turn bad karma into good karma by seeking out wronged persons from his past in order to make amends. 

Gable said in 1995 he circulated his script around Hollywood, including to United Talent Agency, which represented Earl co-producer Brad Copeland.

But the lawsuit was dismissed on summary judgment by a district court judge in February. The judge couldn't find enough "substantially similar" in the two scripts.

Perhaps the only thing extraordinary in this case is that the judge refused to take expert testimony from David Nimmer, a widely respected copyright scholar whose treatise, "Nimmer on Copyright," is regarded as one of the best ever written on copyright law. The plaintiff introduced a 20-paragraph report by Nimmer of comparisons between the two scripts and a lengthy legal analysis of Ninth Circuit's take on copyright infringement cases. 

The judge rejected the report because he wasn't "qualified to offer a literary analysis in this case."

In an unpublished opinion issued on Thursday, the Ninth Circuit says that the district court didn't abuse his discretion by ignoring Nimmer, meaning Gable's allegations alone would need to be sufficient against NBC.

Alas, they're not.

"The superficial points of comparison between Karma and Earl, gleaned haphazardly from three seasons of the television series, do not rise to the level of substantial similarity," writes a panel of justices at the Ninth Circuit in affirming dismissal of the case.

E-mail: eriqgardner@yahoo.com

Twitter: @eriqgardner

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