Celebrities of the stature of Oprah Winfrey receive thousands of pitches a year, from potential sponsors, want-to-be talk show guests, those with ideas for program segments and book authors. Since creating her network, OWN, Oprah also receives unsolicited pitches from those in New York and across the country who have an idea for a new series. While it may be disheartening for an eager writer to receive a rejection from the OWN staff, it may lead to intellectual property litigation to then see one’s idea come to life on the network.
Two writers have filed a copyright lawsuit against Oprah and her network after watching the series “Greenleaf.” The TV show depicts the lives of an affluent African-American family who run a mega-church in the South. The writers claim the storyline for “Greenleaf” and many of its particulars are ripped off from a series pitch they made to Winfrey’s network in 2014, a concept which the network rejected. Winfrey denies the charges.
Recently, the multi-media mogul filed a motion to have the copyright lawsuit thrown out, citing the plaintiff’s lack of knowledge of copyright law. The response to the claim states that the only similarity between the two concepts is that both stories involve the families of church pastors. While the plaintiffs list numerous similarities, including characters, setting and episode plots, Winfrey’s spokesperson rebuffs the claims as an exaggerated effort to attempt to extort money from the multi-millionaire Winfrey.
Obviously, the courts will make the judgment about how similar the two concepts are and whether it is possible that OWN took advantage of the hopeful writers by stealing their story concept. While few in New York will face intellectual property litigation against someone as powerful as Oprah Winfrey, it is not uncommon for influential people to misuse the artistic endeavors of others for their own profit. When this happens, the assistance of an attorney can prove invaluable.