Money is on the Line in Billions Copyright Infringement Lawsuit

The popular television series Billions is the subject of a recently-filed lawsuit in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York.

CBS Corp., Showtime Networks Inc., and the show’s creators were sued for copyright infringement and right of privacy violations, among other claims. Plaintiffs allege that the character Dr. Wendy Rhoades, a psychologist for hedge fund investors, is a portrayal of a character in the plaintiffs’ book. Plaintiffs’ character uses real-life observations to provide psychological evaluations to fictional hedge fund investors and was inspired by the plaintiffs. Plaintiffs claim that many of these accounts are mirrored in the Showtime series.

The complaint states that the plaintiffs were asked to assist with the development of the actress who plays Dr. Rhoades, met with the actress and the creators, and were subsequently asked to promote the show. However, the parties did not enter into a formal written agreement. Plaintiffs deny granting authorization to use their persona for commercial purposes without compensation, or to create derivatives works of the book.

In March 2017, Showtime’s attorneys sent the plaintiffs a letter demanding that they stop promoting themselves as the inspiration for the Dr. Rhoades character and describing themselves as consultants on the show. The creators stated that Dr. Rhoades, like other characters on the show, is not based on any one person, but on several real-life psychologists. In response to the demand letter, plaintiffs filed the present lawsuit. Plaintiffs are seeking an injunction and monetary damages. While the defendants have not yet filed an Answer, Showtime has stated publicly that the plaintiffs will not prevail in their claims.

Arent Fox will continue to monitor this case for further developments. Regardless of the ultimate outcome, the case highlights the benefits of putting in place written agreements prior to discussing show concepts and development with third parties, as such agreements may avoid legal challenges down the road.

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