Jury finds 'Mad Black Woman' did not copy Fort Worth woman's play

Marilyn Tennissen Dec. 9, 2008, 11:00am

Tyler Perry

Tyler Perry's "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" was not a rip off of a Fort Worth woman's "Fantasy of a Black Woman" play, a federal jury in Marshall decided Tuesday, Dec. 9.

The actor, writer and director was on trial facing allegations of copyright infringement by Donna West, who claimed Perry had access to the play she performed in 1991 at the Junior Black Academy for Arts and Letters in Dallas when he performed at a theater there in 1998.

According to the Marshall News Messenger, the four-man, four-woman jury deliberated almost two hours Tuesday afternoon before returning a verdict in Perry's favor.

West sued Perry, his company and Lions Gate Entertainment in May 2007 in the Eastern District of Texas, and the trial began Dec. 2 with U.S. District Judge Leonard E. Davis presiding.

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 even names of characters in the works were the same.

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.

Perry portrays "Madea" the main character in "Diary of a Mad Black Woman," as a feisty, grandmotherly black woman. After the success of "Diary," the actor continued the character in 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."

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

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