Two weeks after the biopic on Tupac Shakur “All Eyez On Me” premiered a pop culture writer filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against the people behind the film. Kevin Powell alleges that the film’s executive producers, screenwriters, and distributors knowingly and intentionally infringed on three articles Powell wrote by broadcasting a derivative work substantially similar to Powell’s articles. The articles were published from 1994 to 1996 in Vibe and were based on the Tupac’s life.
The first obvious issue with the lawsuit is that there is no copyright protection for facts, so how could Powell sue when the biopic is based on the facts of Pac’s short life? Well, when Powell wrote the articles he took some artistic liberties, specifically he created the character “Nigel” that became central to the stories. This fictional character was not made up out of thin air, but was based off of a real person that no one else has ever wrote about. It was this very character that tipped off Powell to the copying.
Powell claims that “All Eyez On Me” features a central character that plays the same role as “Nigel”, which is suspicious considering this person that did not actually exist! The filmmakers will have a hard time showing they did not copy Powell’s work if they did incorporate his fake character in the same way.
It may seem like Powell has the smoking gun he needs to win the case immediately, but we must remember that the wonderful world of copyright law rarely has slam dunk cases. Powell’s claim also alleges that the film further copied his articles by using the same metaphorical slang, he used. This leads us to the next issue with the lawsuit: are some of the other elements Powell is claiming are his simply scene a faire?
Scene a faire is a legal concept that accepts the reality that certain movie genres will almost always have the same basic characters or settings,so those basic elements are not protected by copyright. For example, a superhero movie starter pack will always include elements like a love interest, an evil foe that monologues, and various super powers. This allows the creators of the next superhero movie to use some of these elements without the fear of being slammed with a copyright infringement lawsuit.
Here, Powell will have to show that the elements from his original articles are not simply cliche hip-hop movie elements, but original creative elements that are unique to his work. Powell can also show that the way he arranged the facts was sufficient to gain copyright protection.
“All Eyez On Me” seems to be catching more legal eyes than the biopic intended.