Sudanese Refugees’ Copyright Suit Against Movie Makers Survives Motion to Dismiss

In 2015, 54 Sudanese refugees and their foundation, Foundation for Lost Boys and Girls of Sudan, Inc., (the Lost Boys) filed suit against the producers and writer of the movie The Good LieThe Good Lie was a 2014 movie starring Reese Witherspoon about the Lost Boys fleeing genocidal activity during the Second Sudanese Civil War and being granted asylum and residency in the US.

The writer had interviewed the Lost Boys about their life stories in order to make the movie. Despite promises made to the Lost Boys about being compensated for having their life stories made into a movie, they were never compensated. Thus, they filed suit for copyright infringement, fraud, breach of contract, declaratory judgment, and other claims.

The Lost Boys alleged in their complaint that they are the rightful co-owners of an original joint work of authorship, i.e. the interviews, and of a derivative work that makes use of the original work, i.e. the screenplay. The defendants filed a FRCP 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, arguing that an interviewee cannot claim copyright protection for answers in an interview. The court disagreed, holding that the complaint alleged sufficient facts that the Lost Boys’ telling of their personal stories in response to questions designed to elicit material to create a fictional script for a feature film likely includes enough creativity to render the interviews an original work of authorship. The court also held that plaintiffs pled facts sufficient to support other claims, including the claims for the entry of a permanent injunction, fraud, and breach of contract.

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