Oprah Winfrey Fires Back at ‘Frivolous’ Lawsuit Over ‘Greenleaf’ TV Series

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Oprah Winfrey will not stand idly by as she’s accused of being an idea thief.

Attorneys for media titan Winfrey filed papers Monday firing back at a copyright infringement lawsuit over the OWN series “Greenleaf,” calling it “frivolous” and saying it has a “manifest lack of merit.”

“This is a frivolous lawsuit brought by plaintiffs who either do not understand copyright law or who are pursuing it notwithstanding its manifest lack of merit,” the papers, filed in federal court in California, read.

Winfrey was sued back in April by Shannan Lynette Wynn and Pastor Lester Eugene Barrie, who allege that “Greenleaf” is a ripoff of their project “Justice & Glory.” The suit says that Wynn and Barrie submitted a treatment of the project to the defendants and were told it was rejected, only to discover years later that “their work [was] produced and exploited by Defendants under a different name: ‘Greenleaf.'”

“The setting of Defendants’ ‘Greenleaf’ is identical to that of Plaintiffs’ ‘Justice & Glory. ‘ Both shows are dramas that take place in the South and center around a powerful, African-American family dynasty and their sprawling megachurch,” the complaint reads. “The families of both shows live together in a mansion-style home sitting on a large plot of land, have private jets and live an affluent lifestyle. Their lives all center around the mega-church activities and people affiliated with the church in one aspect or another.”

However, in a motion to dismiss the copyright infringement and breach of implied contract claims of the lawsuit, Winfrey’s legal team says that the two works “are not substantially similar as a matter of law.”

“‘Justice & Glory’ is a story about a young, white, atheist, promiscuous U.S. Senator investigating the world-famous leader of an international mega-church, who may have been involved in the murder of the Senator’s mother,” the new legal papers read. “‘Greenleaf’ is about a single mother returning to her father’s local, African-American ministry in Memphis, Tennessee after the suicide of her sister, and who seeks to prove that her uncle is a serial child molester. While both stories involve a church leader and his family, the similarities end there.”

“Plaintiffs do not understand (or intentionally disregard) that general plot ideas (a mysterious death, a closeted gay character) and familiar stock themes (e.g., a corrupt church, infidelity, good versus evil) are not protected,” the papers continue. “Superficial similarities and abstract commonalities do not constitute infringement. The differences between Plaintiffs’ treatments and ‘Greenleaf’ are profound, palpable, and immediately recognizable even upon a cursory review of the works. There is a complete absence of expressive similarity. It is not even a close case.”

Monday’s motion also states that none of the defendants “had seen Plaintiffs’ treatments or had even heard of Plaintiffs.”

The suit seeks damages of $150,000 for each alleged act of infringement, as well as an injunction barring the defendants from infringing on the plaintiffs’ copyright.

Pamela Chelin contributed to this report.

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