Journalists are supposed to be factual. Then again, copyright law doesn’t protect the naked recitation of historical facts. Alas, a quandary showcased in a new lawsuit against Lionsgate, Morgan Creek and others associated with All Eyez on Me, the biopic about the late rapper, Tupac Shakur.
In a complaint filed on Friday in New York federal court, Kevin Powell claims the movie infringes upon several of his articles for Vibe magazine published in the 1990s. But again, if Shakur’s life events are in the public domain, how does a journalist possibly get around copyright limitations to sue filmmakers who tread similar ground?
The answer for Powell, a fairly prominent activist and writer since starring in the first season of MTV’s The Real World, is to fess up to a journalistic no-no.
“While some of the content in these articles was factual, some portions of the article were changed or embellished by Plaintiff,” states the complaint.
Journalists aren’t supposed to embellish the truth, but copyright law encourages originality and imagination. And so Powell’s lawsuit notes the appearance in All Eyez on Me of “Nigel.”
“In fact, the name and character of ‘Nigel’ in the Original Work was specifically created by the Plaintiff without the authority or encouragement of Tupac Shakur,” writes Powell’s lawyer. “This made-up character of Nigel was the embellishment of a real-life character that was central to the narrative in Plaintiff’s articles. This made-up character was copied and pasted into Defendant’s film to play the same central character and role in the Infringing Work as he did in the Original Work.”
The lawsuit addresses other alleged substantial similarities.
For example, it’s stated in the complaint that All Eyez on Me, like Powell’s work, “centers around Tupac Shakur’s duplicative identity as a progeny of the civil rights revolution era and a contemporary of the gangsta rap era and the subsequent attempts on his life and livelihood by shady characters and government officials.”
When the case reaches the judge’s attention, it may provoke some analysis whether such elements in the hip-hop movie genre constitute scene a faire, or obligatory and indispensable incidents, characters or settings. Those wouldn’t be protected. What would be is Powell’s arrangement of facts — if imaginative. The complaint nods not only to arrests and court cases, but how the “pacing and coverage of these arrests is paced exactly like the Original Work.”
All eyez on thee …
(Billboard-The Hollywood Reporter Media Group acquired Spin Media,