The founder of Hollywood’s iconic Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles has lost a copyright lawsuit alleging the producers of a television show stole the idea behind a script about his soul food restaurant.
U.S. District Judge George Wu in Los Angeles threw out the copyright claims by Herbert Hudson against TV One LLC, a cable channel owned by Radio One and Comcast Corp. that targets a predominantly African American audience. TV One aired six episodes of the show Belle’s earlier this year. Hudson, who founded the restaurant in 1975, claimed that the creators of Belle’s—actor Miguel Núñez Jr. and writer/producer Edwin “Ed” Weinberger—stole his script for a television show about Roscoe’s. He sued seeking $1 million on October 10, 2012.
“What happened was Mr. Weinberg was brought in to be a script polisher. He and Núñez took the concept of this soul food comedy sitcom to TV One and redid and sold it to them when we had brought them in as essential insiders to our production,” said A. Raymond Hamrick, managing general partner of Hamrick & Evans in Los Angeles, who represents Hudson.
Wu previously had dismissed some of the claims and denied Hudson’s motion for a preliminary injunction, but allowed the complaint to be amended several times, citing some similarities, particularly between the characters. The only remaining claim against TV One, represented by Nixon Peabody, was for copyright infringement.
Wu granted summary judgment on that score to TV One on Tuesday, concluding that the “plot and sequence of events in the two television shows are clearly different” and that the defendants “correctly point out that Roscoe’s Show is premised on an actual restaurant in Los Angeles, whereas Belle’s is premised on a purely fictional restaurant in Atlanta.”
The judge also threw out copyright claims against Núñez and Weinberger, but refused to toss California state law claims against them, including for alleged breaches of fiduciary duty and implied contract. A trial on those claims is scheduled for December 17.
Hamrick said he planned to appeal Wu’s decision on the copyright claims.
“We’re very pleased with the ruling on the summary judgment as to the Weinberger and Núñez defendants,” he said. “We think that was correct, and we think we have a very strong case for them. We’re disappointed in the copyright infringement ruling, particularly since the judge previously ruled on motions to dismiss that the two shows had substantial similarities.”
Weinberger’s attorney, Neville Johnson, founding partner of Johnson & Johnson in Beverly Hills, Calif., said: “We’re pleased that he found no merit to the copyright claim and we expect to prevail at trial in December.” Núñez’s attorney, Bassil Hamideh, of The Hamideh Firm in Los Angeles, did not return a call for comment.
“With this ruling, TV One’s been completely dismissed and exonerated and we’re pleased,” said Thaddeus Stauber, a Nixon Peabody partner in Los Angeles who represents TV One.
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