AMC's 'Fear the Walking Dead' Is Target of Copyright Lawsuit

Mel Smith alleges the second season was a rip-off of his zombie comic series, "Dead Ahead."
Richard Foreman, Jr/AMC

If it wasn't for a copyright lapse on The Night of the Living Dead, the 1968 George Romero movie, perhaps the zombie literary genre might not have flourished as it has in the past half century. But a screw-up that caused the landmark film to enter the public domain has provided some room for other authors to put their own spin on the undead hungering for human flesh. Now, however, Romero's descendants are attacking each other in court.

On Tuesday, Dead Ahead author Mel Smith filed suit against AMC Networks, Robert Kirkman and others associated with Fear the Walking Dead. According to a complaint filed in California federal court, the show's second season infringes the copyright on Smith's own zombie comic series.

The complaint doesn't give much details about Dead Ahead, which could be a problem although amendment is certainly possible. Dead Ahead's plot is described by one website thus:

"What had started as a fun little fishing trip soon turns into a nightmare of damnation, trapped on a floating prison. The continents have been hit by a zombie outbreak that spread fast, turning humanity into living corpses, leaving those at sea alive to fend for themselves. With provisions running low, hope comes on the horizon in the form of a luxury liner. All they needed to survive would be on the ship, but who among the fishermen will dare to board the liner and discover what’s become of its passengers and crew?"

Fear the Walking Dead is also a postapocalyptic zombie series set near water, though it's the specific expression — and not the general idea nor scenes a faire — that matter in terms of copyright protection. There's also the possibility that much zombie lore is in the public domain, as mentioned above, but anything new and original gets its own copyright.

All that noted, Smith's lawsuit does raise one interesting connection.

According to the complaint, Smith's agent was David Alpert, who was also the business manager and business partner of Kirkman, the comic book writer of The Walking Dead, which spawned a television series and then a spinoff and eventually this very lawsuit.

Alpert, himself an executive producer on Fear the Walking Dead, is a co-defendant in the case and faces an added claim of breach of fiduciary duty.

An AMC spokesperson says the company hasn't yet been served yet and it is premature to comment.

Smith_v_AMC_Networks_Inc_et_al__candce-18-03803__0001.0.pdf