Suit Claiming HBO Stole the Plot of “Ballers” Gets Dismissed

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In 2007 and 2008, two Hollywood screen writers, Everette Silas and Sherri Littleton pitched an idea for a film titled “Off Season” to potential producers. The film was supposed to portray stories about famous and flashy football players and their involvement with illegal activities. After a series of meetings about the film, the writers were told that Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson (The Rock) were interested in developing “Off Season.” However, when the contract for the project was released, it included a verbal agreement that the writers not be listed in the credits. As a result, the writers refused to accept the deal.

After the HBO series “Ballers” premiered in June 2015, the screenwriters sued HBO, Wahlberg, and The Rock for copyright infringement. The screenwriters claimed “the stories, character traits, scenes and incidents” of Ballers was extremely similar to the plot they wrote and pitched for “Off Season.” The writers’ complaint alleged that these similarities “coupled with the defendants’ direct access to the materials leaves little doubt that numerous elements of Ballers were copied from Off Season.” Although Ballers was not created by the producers the writers met with, they allege they are entitled to $200 million on the grounds that HBO infringed upon their rights in “Off Season.”

The defendants’ moved to dismiss the suit on the grounds that both story lines present a basic theme apparent in many productions about the personal lives of famous football players. Although the theme of each project was based on the party-hard and flashy personal life of a professional football player, the defendants’ pointed out that that this is the same story line of other popular football productions, such CBS’s The Game and ESPN’s Playmakers.

At the end of July, a California judge granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss and ruled that the two projects were actually very different. Although the judge noted that the two productions did have some similarities, he determined that the minor similarities are not enough to give rise to a claim for copyright infringement. Ultimately, while “Off Season” was about a football player’s life in the off season and Ballers was based on a retired football player’s struggle to become a financial advisor for professional athletes, the internal similarities involving players’ drug use and party lifestyle was not enough to prove HBO infringed upon the rights of the screenwriters.

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