NBC Beats Writer Who Sued Over ‘My Name Is Earl’

by | June 17, 2011 at 6:07 PM | TV News

By Eriq Gardner

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) – 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 in Hollywood. One recipient was 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.

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Perhaps the only thing extraordinary in this case is that the judge refused to take expert testimony from David Nimmer, a 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 the Ninth Circuit’s take on copyright infringement cases.

The judge rejected the report saying Nimmer 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In an unpublished opinion issued on Thursday, the Ninth Circuit says that the district court didn’t abuse its discretion by ignoring Nimmer, meaning Gable’s allegations alone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.

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