Copyright infringement trial against actor Tyler Perry continues in Marshall

Marilyn Tennissen Dec. 8, 2008, 9:00am

Tyler Perry

There's a mad black woman in Marshall, Texas, and she's mad at movie maker Tyler Perry.

Donna West claims the playwright, director and actor based his successful film "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" on her copyrighted play, "Fantasy of a Black Woman."

West's copyright infringement trial against the movie and television star is currently underway in Marshall in U.S. District Court with Judge Leonard E. Davis presiding.

West, a resident of the Dallas area, filed suit against Perry, his companies and Lions Gate Entertainment Inc. on May 21, 2007.

The trial began Dec. 2, with Perry refuting claims that concepts used in his film came from West's play.

As the Marshall News Messenger reported, Perry greeted fans outside before entering the courthouse for testimony.

Throughout the first week of the trial the jury listened to West read her play aloud in its entirety and also viewed Perry's box office hit to assess the two works.

The plaintiff called a college theater professor, Connie Whitt-Lambert, as an expert witness. She read West's script, watched DVDs of Perry's stage play and film versions of "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" and concluded that Perry's work "was mimicked from 'Fantasy of a Black Woman,' " the Messenger reported.

The professor pointed out that the plots, characters, events and other aspects of the works were synonymous.

For example, Whitt-Lambert both stories have the same basic plot:

A subservient, submissive wife plans an anniversary. Her husband shows no interest. They separate. He goes to another woman. The wife begs him to stay. The mother in "Diary" is Mabel and called Medea, and the mother in "Fantasy" is Maybelle. The mother shows concern in the daughter's relationship with God. The wife eventually returns to her faith and becomes strong. The husband suffers paralysis. The wife encounters a compassionate, successful man who quotes scriptures and has same Christian values.

Both works also use gospel music to set a mood.

According to the Messenger, Louis Petrich of Leopold, Petrich & Smith, attorneys for Lions Gate, revealed that West issued the professor a list of similarities she found herself before Whitt-Lambert had the opportunity to do her own assessment.

Petrich stressed the irrelevance of the similar titles, and mentioned the 1970 Oscar-nominated "Diary of a Mad Housewife."

He pointed out that many features differ in the two stories, such as the events surrounding the women turning to a mother figure and the mother's health. The mother dies in "Fantasy," Petrich said, while in "Diary" the mother is in a rest home.

On Monday, Dec. 8, the defense team brought out its own expert, Michael Robert "Bob" Gale, screen writer of "Back to the Future."

Gale testified that it is his opinion that Perry did not use West's material and there "no such similarities that indicated copying," the Messenger reported.

According to the Messenger, Gale is being paid $500 an hour for his work on the case and has spent at least 100 hours assessing the similarities between "Fantasy" and "Diary of a Mad Black Woman."

He told jurors he spent so much time on the case because he could empathize with Perry as a fellow writer.

Gales has previously given his expert opinion on claims of copyright infringement involving movies such as "Drumline," "Dodgeball" and "Darkness Falls."

Perry has continued the "Madea" character, which he plays himself, into additional movies including "Madea Goes to Jail," "Madea's Family Reunion," "Madea's Class Reunion," and a recurring character on the TV show "House of Payne."

The Messenger reports that the jury deliberations may begin Tuesday, Dec. 9.

Case No. 2:07-cv-200-LED-JDL

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