Tupac Movie Hit with Copyright Infringement Lawsuit

TupacThe makers of the Tupac Shakur biopic All Eyez on Me have been sued for copyright infringement.

The movie has not been reviewed favorably, earning a 17% rating on Rotten Tomatoes as of this writing.  However, it also earned $31 million on its opening weekend.

As reported by NPR, the suit was filed by Kevin Powell, an author and activist who writes about pop culture.

Vibe

Powell claims that the film's writers, producers, and distributors misappropriated material from three stories that Powell wrote about Shakur for Vibe magazine in the 1990's.

Facts aren't protected under copyright law, and the filmmakers were free to use the facts as reported in Powell's articles or in any other source.

However, Powell alleges that the filmmakers did more than use the facts he reported.

According to the complaint,

While some of the content in these articles was factual some portions of the article were changed or embellished by Plaintiff ... In fact, the name and character of 'Nigel' in [the Vibearticles] was specifically created by the Plaintiff without the authority or encouragement of Tupac Shakur. This made up character of Nigel was the embellishment of a real life character that was central to the narrative in [Powell's] articles.

Making Things Up

As the Hollywood Reporter notes, journalists aren't supposed to make things up.  But creative inventions — unlike facts — can be protected under copyright law.

Perhaps more of a stretch is the complaint's claim that the film infringed Powell's work via "metaphorical slang and strong language, including but limited to the liberal use of the f-word, indicative of the way rappers in the 1990's talk." 

As the Hollywood Reporter discusses,

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."

Scènes à faire

A "scène à faire" is a scene that's considered almost required for a film in a particular genre.

For example a scene in a western where a gunslinger walks into a saloon might be considered a "scène à faire." 

A spy novel or movie will often include obligatory scenes involving spy gadgets, covert assassinations, and Swiss bank accounts.

In a movie about "gangsta" rap, a scene in a recording studio or club might similarly be considered obligatory and thus not protected under copyright law.

The policy behind not granting copyright protection for scènes à faire is that giving the first person to write a certain type of scene a monopoly over that type of scene for the duration of copyright protection (the life of the author plus 70 years) would greatly inhibit the creativity of others.

Powell is seeking damages of $180,000 for each showing or broadcast of the movie.


Photo Credit: Tupac_Coachella_G_05, Dawk Suice, Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0).

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