Sometimes it takes admitting to one bad deed in order to take a stand against another.
A lawsuit against the makers of “All Eyez on Me”, a biopic about the life of rapper Tupac Shakur, alleges that the film infringes on the work of journalist Kevin Powell. But how can a film about true events infringe on copyrights?
Powell’s answer: he “embellished” facts about Shakur for his articles, and “All Eyez on Me” copied those embellishments.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Powell says he wrote a number of articles about Shakur for Vibe magazine in the 1990s, and in them he invented various facts about the rapper and his associates. This would be a major breach of journalistic ethic, but may also be the only way Powell’s allegations can stand in court.
The complaint filed by Powell against Lionsgate, Morgan Creek, and others associated with “All Eyez on Me” states, “While some of the content in these articles was factual, some portions of the article were changed or embellished by Plaintiff.”
Though copyright law doesn’t cover real life events, it does cover works of originality and imagination, which could include any embellishments made by Powell.
The most clear case of “All Eyez on Me” taking portions of Powell’s “original” creations includes the use of a character named Nigel.
“In fact, the name and character of ‘Nigel’ in the Original Work was specifically created by the Plaintiff without the authority or encouragement of Tupac Shakur,” writes Powell’s lawyer. “This made-up character of Nigel was the embellishment of a real-life character that was central to the narrative in Plaintiff’s articles. This made-up character was copied and pasted into Defendant’s film to play the same central character and role in the Infringing Work as he did in the Original Work.”
Powell alleges other close similarities between his work and “All Eyez on Me”, including that it “centers around Tupac Shakur’s duplicative identity as a progeny of the civil rights revolution era and a contemporary of the gangsta rap era and the subsequent attempts on his life and livelihood by shady characters and government officials.”
Some of those storytelling techniques may not be considered infringement, but the judge in the case will surely be considering whether Powell’s original arrangement of facts and events like Shakur’s arrests, as well as how the “pacing and coverage of these arrests is paced exactly like the Original Work.”