Death At A Funeral Leads To Lawsuit In A Courtroom

from the who-do-you-believe dept

It's pretty common for people who think that "ideas" can be owned to get upset when someone else makes a movie or a book that has a similar idea to one they had. These often lead to lawsuits that quickly go nowhere. It's actually quite rare to find a lawsuit over the idea of a book or movie that has legs, and it usually has to involve some detailed evidence. For example the famous Buchwald v. Paramount case involved a situation where Paramount had specifically optioned a very similar story (to what became Coming to America) from Buchwald, involving the same actor (Eddie Murphy) and director (John Landis) who eventually made the movie. That case showed direct involvement of many of the parties. Most of these cases are more along the lines of "hey, I had that idea and I sent it to movie studio X, so they must have seen it and copied it." Those don't get very far.

However, THREsq has the details on a lawsuit from a woman who does a half decent job of suggesting her lawsuit might be slightly more like Buchwald's than others -- though there are some really wacky aspects to this lawsuit, and I doubt that she'll win. This case involves Pamella Lawrence, who apparently wrote a book about an embarrassing thing (where her clothes were stripped off) that happened to her at a funeral in Jamaica which was caught on film. Her book had the catchy name "Caught on Video ... The Most Embarassing Moment de Funeral, July 11, 1994, Jamaican Volume 1." Two movies, with the much catchier name "Death at a Funeral" have come out in the last few years (one in the UK, and another remake in the US -- neither of which did all that well). Lawrence claims both were based on her book and video. At times, her lawsuit seems to go off the deep end. As THREsq describes:
The woman, Pamella Lawrence, is representing herself in court and has filed a lawsuit stuffed with outrageous claims, including racism, a plot to eradicate the female population of urban cities and allegations of inside jokes within the movie that were specifically intended to humiliate her.
Yes, apparently, because the first thing you want to do when infringing on someone's copyright is write into the script jokes intended to humiliate the person. Most of those claims seem like absolutely ridiculous stretches. However, as THREsq notes, this shouldn't automatically be relegated into the "nutty pro se" lawsuit bin:
Yes, many of the claims stretch reason, but Lawrence has also gone to extreme lengths to craft a 54-page complaint that almost looks and feels as if it was drawn up by a $500-an-hour attorney. She cites applicable laws and case citations (although none are required in complaints), copyright registrations, numerous exhibits and perhaps most impressively a frame work intended to bypass the legal pitfalls that typically trip up those asserting idea theft in Hollywood.
It still seems like a longshot, but she does describe meeting with studio execs, and even getting involved in a legal dispute previously that ended in a settlement. That all makes for much more interesting reading than the typical such lawsuit, but it still seems pretty thin on actual evidence of anything in the complaint. But, there's also so much pure ridiculousness in the lawsuit that whatever credibility is built up in the other parts may get lost in the deep paranoia. Again, from THREsq's summary:
Lawrence claims the defendants intended to destroy the "female competition" from the "inner city" in relevant markets by distributing the film, that Hollywood has a consistent pattern of discriminating against women as evidenced by the fact it took 82 years for a woman to win best director at the Oscars, and that this case is an example of why there are so few minorities at Sony Pictures
Yeah, that's not quite how you go about making yourself a credible plaintiff. On top of that, the "similarities" seem incredibly weak as well. Just because there are some generic similarities in characters or parts of a story, it doesn't mean that infringement or breach of any contract occurred. Still, if you want some entertaining reading in the form of a lawsuit filing, here you go:

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 8th, 2010 @ 2:26am

    "one in the UK, and another remake in the US -- neither of which did all that well"

    Yes, because the US can't innovate so they have to copy the UK instead :)

    Now imagine if it were the other way around. Imagine if the U.S. made the book first and then the U.K. copied. What a disaster that would be.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 8th, 2010 @ 2:29am


    What a legal disaster that would be *

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 8th, 2010 @ 2:54am

    Re: Re:

    For example see

    But It's OK for Americans to copy others. What a broken legal system we live in.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. icon
    average_joe (profile), Jul 8th, 2010 @ 3:12am

    What a crazy complaint. If I'm reading it right, she's even claiming that it's not a coincidence that her last name is Lawrence and that they hired Martin Lawrence for the movie. That's obviously a conspiracy!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    PaulT (profile), Jul 8th, 2010 @ 3:48am


    I especially love the racism argument, since her specific comments seem to be referring to the American remake... which replaced most of the white characters from the original with black actors!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    Lachlan Hunt (profile), Jul 8th, 2010 @ 5:35am

    What Wedding?

    "...about an embarrassing thing (where her clothes were stripped off) that happened to her at a wedding in Jamaica which was caught on film..."

    The article in THREsq says this happened at a funeral, not a wedding, which suddenly makes this whole article make a little bit more sense. I was wondering how getting stripped at a wedding had anything to do with someone dying at a funeral. (I haven't seen either film, so I have no idea what the actual plot is; I'm just assuming someone dies while at a funeral based on the title.)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 8th, 2010 @ 6:23am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Makes sense to me, we have more boats with bigger guns!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    mkam (profile), Jul 8th, 2010 @ 6:28am

    Streisand Anyone

    This sounds like it is doing exactly what it is supposed to. She is getting a lot of publicity. The complaint will be dropped but she will have got her 15 mins. IMHO.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 8th, 2010 @ 6:40am

    UK version rocked!

    Off topic I know, but I seriously recommend the original version of this movie. Funniest thing I've seen in years. The US remake looks stupid judging from the previews. I hate it when movie producers remake stuff that doesn't need to be remade with an inferior version. Any see "Death at a Funeral" UK version. Its the funniest thing on Netflix right now.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. icon
    average_joe (profile), Jul 8th, 2010 @ 6:56am

    Re: Re:

    That's hilarious! I see in the complaint that she threatened lawsuits and got paid settlement money ten years ago over her story that she was pitching. She seems to just be fishing for more money now. It worked then and it'll probably work now. LOL!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 8th, 2010 @ 7:10am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Well, it might, but now she'll get more negative publicity either way since the Internet is a much more prominent source of information.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    chocota (profile), Jul 8th, 2010 @ 8:41am

    To Mike, Movie Idea

    Hey Mike, nice story, very helpful for me, thanks. I said very helpful 'cause I got a movie "IDEA" on my head and I have thought to send it, in the form a letter, powerpoint or video, to movie studios, movie executives or movie investor or whoever I decided to, but, I am afraid mi idea can be stolen. Since you are always reporting about Lawsuits and Copyrights, if you have the knowledge, can you advise me how to avoid that? Or if you don't have the better or right answer, can you find out for me please? Or anyone else here in the comments can help? Thanks Very Much !!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. icon
    Brigitta (profile), Jul 8th, 2010 @ 8:59am

    Re: UK version rocked!

    Actually, I thought the UK version was only mildly amusing and without any real point. Some embarrassing but funny things happen to a bunch of uninteresting people at a funeral, with a Big Reveal (that you can see coming a mile away) regarding the loved one who died. I can't recommend it, but obviously, Your Mileage May Vary. I agree however that the American version, based on the previews I've seen, looks even worse.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Mista Boombastic Baby Fantastic, Jul 8th, 2010 @ 9:42am


    Wheres the link to her getting her clothes ripped off that was caught on tape!? Tits or GTFO.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), Jul 8th, 2010 @ 11:03am

    Re: What Wedding?

    Dah. Typo.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Allan, Jul 8th, 2010 @ 12:19pm


    Both movies made nearly $50 million each at the box office (source: That's pretty good, considering their relatively low budgets (UK: $9 million, US: $21 million).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    LtVazquez 101st airborne division US ARMY, Mar 21st, 2012 @ 2:18am

    Us uk

    I hear a lot of bad talk between the 2 greatest country's on earth the mother country ( uk of course ) an us America we should not argue n fight wit eachsg others Churchill once stated There should be great cooperation amongst English-speaking countries not exactly but close to the great words of a great leader lets fight other non American n British country's an stick together an keep the special relation alive ( USA+UK= the best on earth

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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