HBO Wins Bid to Publish ‘Ballers’ Dismissal

     LOS ANGELES (CN) — A federal judge has granted HBO’s request to publish his ruling dismissing a copyright infringement case relating to the television show “Ballers,” allowing his decision to be cited as precedential case law.
     U.S. District Judge George Wu agreed to publish his July ruling on a motion to dismiss, in which he found that HBO did not violate copyright law despite similarities between a show it produced and a script its executives had seen in 2007. Wu issued his publication order August 17.
     Federal courts and appellate courts often distinguish between published opinions, where the ruling is thought to be of precedential import, and unpublished opinions, where the case and ruling is not thought to add substantially to the existing body of law.
     The delineation is controversial though, as many attorneys have fought unwritten rules against citing unpublished opinions in case law.
     Depublication of reports does occur, typically at the request of the parties, as is the case in the present instance.
     The dispute stems from claims of copyright infringement,which ultimately failed to pass through the motion to dismiss stage.
     The plaintiffs, Everette Silas and Sherri Littleton, created a script and trailer about a former NFL player-turned-nightclub owner that they claim HBO inappropriately used as source material for their television show “Ballers,” which features a former NFL linebacker who now works as a financial advisor for professional football players.
     The plaintiffs created a trailer called “Off Season,” about a supposedly washed up quarterback who owns a nightclub in Miami. He fraternizes with new and former NFL players, offering them a place to enjoy nighttime entertainment away from the prying eyes of the media and public.
     Storylines involving players engaging in various vices and the consequences from those engagements feature heavily in the script.
     Silas and Littleson said they began to shop the show idea to various television executives, including prominent HBO executives Steve Mayer and Chris Albrecht. Also, the show idea was pitched to Dwayne Johnson and Mark Whalberg, who went on to produce “Ballers.”
     The plaintiffs said “Ballers” had enough in common with their idea as to infringe their copyright. These similarities include some of the activities of the main characters, basic plot outlines such as NFL players attempting to handle their newfound fame and fortune, and even the setting in Miami.
     In his decision, Wu said that while there may be purported similarities between the works, they have to move beyond basic elements and focus instead on objective details the two works share.
     “Although plaintiffs allege many purported similarities between ‘Off Season’ and ‘Ballers,’ the actual similarities are between unprotectable elements; the protectable elements of the works are significantly different,” Wu wrote in the ruling.
     For instance, while both characters in the shows are former NFL players beginning their next careers, the objective details — one is a corrupt nightclub owner while the other is financial analyst bent on helping players avoid pitfalls of fame and fortune — are markedly different.
     Wu found this is true in terms of plot, character and other aspects of the show. Even where there are overlaps in pace, it is attributable to the fact that the decision to have one show encompass an NFL season seems a rather obvious choice for any show dealing with NFL players, he said.

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