New Girl, Zooey Dachanel’s show on Fox, has just become embroiled in a lawsuit for copyright infringement by two writers, Stephanie Counts and Shari Gold, who claim to be the show’s true creators. The writer’s allege that their script was stolen by Twentieth Century Fox and presumed New Girl creator, Elizabeth Meriwether. According to Counts and Gold, the two had been shopping a script, called Square One, based on Counts’ real-life experience of moving into a three-man bachelor pad after leaving her husband for having an affair. After five years of pitching the story, the two were unable to make a deal. Gold and Counts contend that New Girl, is a blatant copy of Square One and have sued Twentieth Century Fox, Meriwether, media mogul Peter Chernin, and director Jack Kasdan.
According to the Gold and Counts, Meriwether didn’t just take their idea, but slavishly copied their script with only minor changes. The fact that the theft involves more just stealing an idea is critical because Ideas cannot be copyrighted, only the expression of an idea. Think about Harry Potter. The idea of a boy wizard who has magical adventures while attending a wizarding school is not protected but the character of Harry Potter or Hermione, including any similarities in their personalities or names, would be protected.
The difference between the two scripts is “more akin to eraser marks or ink blots . . . and cannot be treated as original expression.”
The 92-page complaint is filled with comparisons and similarities between the Square One and New Girl scripts: “both protagonists are awkward, quirky women around the age of thirty, the name of the protagonist’s unfaithful beau in each work is Spencer, the plot of both works revolves around the protagonist moving in with three guys, the three new guy roommates in each work have identical personality traits, and the best friend in each work is named “CeCe” or has the initials ‘C.C.’.”
For New Girl to mount a defense, they would likely try to show that Meriwether created her work independently, that she had never seen, or had the opportunity to come into contact with the Square One script. In anticipation of that defense, the complaint suggests various paths for the script to have made its way into Meriwether’s hands, including how Gold and Counts had once proposed that Zooey Deschanel play the lead.
Gold and Counts also say that Fox made a $10,000 settlement offer to keep them from seeking legal action. Gold and Count’s lawyer, at the time, suggested that they take the deal but they thought it was far too small; and then fired the attorney.
Along with monetary damages, Gold and Count are seeking an injunction. Additionally, the writers want to be credited as the true creators of the show and for the defendants to issue a public apology. If Gold and Counts were shown to be the copyright holders, they would be entitled to a portion of the profits made from the show by the various defendants amongst other awards. What portion of the profits, and what those profits actually are could take quite a while as the two parties vie for power and position. Ultimately, the case will probably settle, but it will be interesting to see if that settlement includes naming Gold and Counts as the show’s creators.