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Just over a year ago today, script writer Martin Alexander filed a lawsuit against ABC’s Emmy award-winning television show Modern Family, claiming that the defendants illegally copied the concept for the show from his copyrighted pilot for the sitcom Loony Ben. While Alexander’s Loony Ben bears several similarities to the hit show, a New York federal judge dismissed the copyright lawsuit last week, finding Alexander failed to demonstrate “substantial similarity” between the two works.
In the complaint, Alexander alleged that his work was circulated throughout Hollywood and that in 2006 he filed a proposed casting list which “include[d] obscure actress Sofía Vergara” in a role much like her role on Modern Family, “as the stunningly beautiful, fiery, temperamental, Latina mother, with a thick accent, who’s in love with a Caucasian man.”
Alexander pointed to other similarities between Modern Family and his concept for Loony Ben, such as the focus on “a non-traditional family.” But according to the New York federal judge who dismissed the lawsuit, the similarities were not enough to satisfy the requirement of “substantial similarity” for copyright infringement.
To prove that a work was illegally copied, a plaintiff must show that the defendant had access to the copyrighted work and “substantial similarity” between the two works. It is not easy to define the degree of similarity required but rather, “[t]he test for infringement of a copyright is of necessity vague.”
Although the test for copyright infringement is vague, one thing is clear . . . ABC’s Modern Family is not substantially similar to Alexander’s Loony Ben and Alexander won’t be receiving that 50% interest in the show’s copyright he demanded.
– Carolina Blanco
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