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Kullberg v. Pure Flix Entertainment LLC

District court dismisses screenwriters’ copyright infringement suit against Christian film “God’s Not Dead” for lack of substantial similarity to plaintiffs’ screenplay.

Screenwriters Kelly Monroe and Michael Landon Jr. filed a copyright infringement action against Pure Flix Entertainment, the producer of the Christian film “God’s Not Dead,” alleging that the film and screenplay for the film infringed plaintiffs’ screenplay “Rise. Plaintiffs contended that the characters, plots and sequences of events between the works were substantially similar. The court rejected plaintiffs’ arguments and dismissed the complaint.

In comparing the works, the court explained that the works share the general premise of an atheist professor challenging a Christian student’s religious beliefs, but that this general premise was not protectable. Beyond this basic premise, the court explained that the works tell materially different stories and that any other similarities in plot were unprotectable scenes a faire, and further that the works have disparate themes and mood.

Finally, the court compared the works’ characters, holding that the main characters were not substantially similar. While each work features as a main character a Christian student whose religious beliefs are challenged by an atheist professor, the court explained that the students’ shared characteristics — being “devout,” “kind,” “loyal,” “free-thinking” and “courageous” — naturally flow from the works’ shared premise and did not give rise to copyright infringement. The court further held that the professors in each work were not substantially similar, noting the significant disparities between their respective traits.