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Dickerson v. WB Studio Enterprises, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. New York

September 5, 2017

RONALD DICKERSON, Plaintiff,
v.
WB STUDIO ENTERPRISES, INC., et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          LAURA TAYLOR SWAIN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Ronald Dickerson, also known as JD Lawrence, commenced this copyright infringement suit against a number of Defendants on April 12, 2016. On August 8, 2016, Plaintiff filed the operative First Amended Complaint (docket entry no. 47 (the “FAC”)), naming as Defendants Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. (“MGM”), Showtime Networks, Inc. (“Showtime”), and WB Studio Enterprises, Inc. (“WB” and, collectively with MGM and Showtime, “Defendants”). Defendants have now moved to dismiss the FAC pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), for failure to state a claim for which relief may be granted. The Court has jurisdiction of this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

         The Court has considered carefully the submissions of both parties in connection with the instant motion and, for the following reasons, Defendants' motion to dismiss is granted.

         Background

         The following recitation of relevant facts is derived from the allegations in the FAC, together with the works at issue, which are “documents attached to the complaint as an exhibit or incorporated in it by reference.” Chambers v. Time Warner, Inc., 282 F.3d 147, 153 (2d Cir. 2002).

         Plaintiff owns the copyright in the script (the “Script”) to a play titled Scissors Cut the Devil Loose (“Scissors”), which copyright was registered in 2000, and in a video recording of Scissors (the “Recording”), which copyright was registered in 2016.[1] (FAC ¶ 13; docket entry no. 51, Declaration of Jonathan Zavin (“Zavin Decl.”), at Ex. A (the Script) & Ex. B (the Recording).) Defendants are the owners of the copyrighted works “Barbershop, ” “Barbershop 2: Back in Business, ” “Barbershop: The Next Cut, ” and the “Barbershop” television series (collectively, the “Barbershop Works”). (FAC ¶¶ 24-26.[2]) Plaintiff alleges that the Barbershop Works infringe on his copyright in Scissors. Because the Script and the Recording present very different stories, each will be summarized in turn.

         The Script

         In the Script, the play Scissors tells the story of Job Williams, a twenty-five year old African-American barber who works in a barbershop named Scissors that is owned by an older African-American man named Clarence. At the outset of the play, God and Lucifer have a conversation in which God grants Lucifer permission to “test yet another” as Lucifer once tested Job in the Biblical story, and points to Job Williams as the man whose faith Lucifer may test. (Script pp. 5-7.) The play opens with a series of conversations between Clarence, his son Woody, “Fast Eddie” Thompson (another barber at Scissors), “Mo Money, ” a drug dealer and small-time merchant, and Precious, a nail technician who is in a relationship with Clarence. Clarence is strict with Woody, and regretful that his son is not more successful. (Id. pp. 9-11.)

         The early scenes introduce the audience to the relationships among these characters, and it is not until Act I, Scene V, that we are introduced to Job. (Id. p. 20.) Job's religiosity is immediately made clear: he talks about attending nightly services (id. p. 23) and plays Gospel music in the barbershop (id. p. 26). We are also soon introduced to Bishop Jackson, a local priest. (Id. p. 27.) Job is in a relationship with the Bishop's daughter Angela, of which the Bishop does not approve, since the Bishop would prefer Angela to “marry a respectable saved businessman like her father.” (Id. p. 29.) Job and the Bishop argue, and after the Bishop leaves, Job sings a Gospel song about the importance of forgiveness titled “Lord bless them anyhow.” (Id. pp. 29-31.) After the confrontation between Job and the Bishop, Clarence tells Job that the “Bishop knows a lot of folk” and Clarence is afraid of losing business, and so Job can no longer work at Scissors. (Id. p. 32.) Shortly after this conversation, at the end of Act I, we learn that Job's family was in a car accident with Bishop Jackson. (Id. p. 33.)

         Act II is set two months later, with Job's father in a coma after the accident and Job worried about the lawsuit Bishop Jackson filed over the accident. (Id. p. 34.) Job and Mo Money discuss Bishop Jackson's greed, and how he lacks compassion despite being a “man of God.” (Id. pp. 34-35.) Following the parallel with the Biblical character, Job is forgiving of Bishop Jackson's flaws and confident that “God puts no more on us than we can bare [sic].” (Id. p. 35.) Mo Money tries to persuade Job to ask for his job at Scissors back and earn a living, but Job responds by quoting a verse from the Bible and telling Mo Money that he is not concerned about material possessions. (Id. pp. 35-37.)

         Back at Scissors, Clarence and Precious argue over Job's firing, with Precious deciding to leave Clarence because of how he treated Job. (Id. pp. 40-42.) After Precious leaves, Clarence's son Woody comes into Scissors and asks Clarence for money. (Id. p. 43.) As the two argue, Job passes by, sees the argument, and walks into the barbershop to intercede. (Id. p. 44.) They begin to fight, and Clarence pulls out a gun to break up the argument, shoots Woody, realizes what he's done, and passes out in a chair. (Id. p. 45.) Job calls an ambulance, but Bishop Jackson walks into the shop and believes Job has just shot Clarence and Woody. (Id. p. 46.) The Bishop picks up the gun and shoots Job, waking Clarence, who explains the misunderstanding and takes Job in his arms to get help. (Id. pp. 46-47.)

         In the final scenes, we move forward several years. Job and Angela have a child, and Precious and Clarence are married. (Id. p. 48.) In the final scene, Job greets a customer as the owner of Scissors, letting him know that the “rules” of the shop are “One! Don't let the devil get you down. Two! Know that the battle is not yours it's the Lords [sic]. Three! Know that God is good all the time.” (Id. p. 50.) The play ends with the voice of God reciting a verse from the Book of Revelation. (Id.)

         The Recording

         The recording presents a similar, and yet substantively different, play. In the Recording, Job is HIV-positive, and loses his job at Scissors after Clarence learns this fact. Clarence later learns more about HIV and comes to accept Job, letting him have his job back. Although the Recording also contains the altercation between Job, Woody, and Clarence, in the Recording, Clarence beats Woody with a baseball bat in a closet, after which Woody learns his lesson and becomes an employee of the shop. A prominent plotline in the Recording missing entirely from the Script involves Eddie, a patron of the barbershop, who is homosexual. Early in the play, Eddie says he needs to work out his homosexuality with God, and by the play's end, he is ...


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