(CN) – Cartoon Network and hip-hop artist Andre 3000 did not scoop the idea for the animated series “Class of 3000” from a man who claims to have pitched a similar series 15 years ago, a federal judge ruled.
Andre 3000, one half of the popular duo Outkast, co-created “Class of 3000” with Thomas Lynch. The now discontinued series chronicled “the adventures of a classroom of musical outcasts and their whimsical teacher at the Westley School for the Performing Arts in Atlanta.”
Timothy McGee says the plot resembles a 1997 pitch he made to Cartoon Network for an animated series titled “The Music Factory of the 90’s.” The premise allegedly focused on a corporate attorney who leaves his law firm to become a successful music producer. Set in Atlanta, each episode would feature characters that “interact with established performers, featured as guest artists, who are integrated into each episode’s storyline to impart lessons about the music industry and life.”
Cartoon Network returned McGee’s pitch with a letter explaining that the series did not fit their programming needs.
In a federal complaint against Cartoon Network, Andre Benjamin aka Andre 3000 and Turner Broadcasting Systems, McGee said that “Class of 3000” violated his copyright.
U.S. District Judge Douglas Woodlock dismissed the case in Boston last week, finding that “the general feel and themes of the two works are so different that no ordinary observer would consider them substantially similar.”
“McGee ‘fails to understand the fundamental difference between idea and expression,'” he added, citing precedent. “Plaintiff would ask this court to grant him a monopoly on unprotected elements, such as themes, emotions, and attitudes on which [cartoons] commonly rely.'”
For example, “the concept of struggling young artists is not an original one, and issues such as stage fright, the inability to get recognized by the music industry, receiving mentoring from an industry insider or star, and overcoming technological and other obstacles to putting on a successful performance are natural corollaries of a cartoon following a group of young performers,” Woodlock wrote.
“Additionally, the mood and tone of the series are very different,” the 35-page decision states. “‘Class of 3000’ is a children’s cartoon that is fast-paced, ‘whimsical,’ and laden with traditional cartoon slapstick comedy. By contrast, Music Factory is aimed at an adult audience, serious in tone, not comedic, and uses more slang. Moreover, ‘Class of 3000’ is full of fantasy and magic (for example, Sunny lives in a magical forest with a bear who drives a convertible and a boombox-toting rabbit), whereas Music Factory is grounded in reality.”
Any “Music Factory” ideas that “Class of 3000” copied are not protected, the judge found.
“For example, an animated television show that incorporates music, musicians, or original songs is not copyrightable,” he wrote. “Nor is it, in any event, original: as McGee explains in his treatment, his cartoon format is itself based on ‘Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids’, which also incorporated music and an original song into an animated series.”