MARSHALL, Tx. - A former Wiley College professor has filed a copyright infringement lawsuit in Marshall’s federal court against Netflix Inc., Marvel Entertainment, Viacom, and Walt Disney Inc., claiming that the companies conspired together, infringing his script entitled “Batman Blackman” for the publishing, distribution and broadcast film production of Marvel’s top-grossing 2018 superhero film, “Black Panther.”
In the case, the plaintiff, David Louis Whitehead, a former political science professor at Wiley and current American government teacher at Grambling State University, claims that the Black Panther movie possesses striking similarities to his script, “Batman Blackman.”
In their response to his lawsuit Whitehead said, “the defendants, their lawyers were basically telling the history about (the character) Bat Man and Black Panther, but we’re not interested in the history; we’re interested in did they take Marvel characters and place them in my concepts (for) ‘Batman Blackman’, for ‘Black Panther,’” Whitehead told the News Messenger.
Whitehead, who is a pro’ se litigant in the case and resides in Bossier City, Louisiana, also alleges that singer Kendrick Lamar’s song used for the Black Panther soundtrack is similar to Michael Jackson’s Invincible album that Whitehead said he was using for the soundtrack for his script. Whitehead claimed both songs have similar beats, thematic musical plots and uses a rap artist.
“So, that’s it,” Whitehead said of his lawsuit. “But this has been a long, drawn story.
“It was based on serious retaliation,” he said, accusing both Hollywood and the government of conspiring against him.
Whitehead is demanding a jury trial and $10 billion and $1 million in compensatory damages in the case. Marshall’s US Magistrate Judge Roy Payne is presiding over the case.
In the lawsuit, which was originally filed Nov. 2, 2018 and amended two other times since, with the latest amendment being a few days ago, on June 5, Whitehead alleges that in 2018, defendants Netflix, Marvel Entertainment, Walt Disney and others engaged in improper dissemination, misappropriation of intellectual property, breach of contract and copyright infringement of the plaintiff’s script treatment entitled “Batman Blackman,” for the publishing, distribution, broadcast film and soundtrack productions for the Black Panther film, CDs, DVDs and other accessories linked to the film.
The lawsuit further accuses the defendants of “basically placing existing characters from Marvel Entertainment films, incorporating these characters into plaintiff’s ‘Batman Blackman,’ without having plaintiff’s consent or authorization or compensation.
Further, Whitehead believes that the defendants added historical Batman various plots, events, mood and similar characters to his “Batman Blackman” script to create their highly successful film and accessories entitled “Black Panther,” the lawsuit states.
Giving a timeline of the infringement alleged in the lawsuit, Whitehead alleges that in November 2016, Netflix, which is the world’s leading Internet entertainment service, and its Creative Content Executive (COO) Ted Sarando’s secretary invited him to submit his 30-film proposal to Netflix through an attorney.
Whitehead said he obliged and had his Attorney Alan Pesnell to submit his 30-film project proposal to Netflix, via email, on his behalf. According to the lawsuit, Netflix responded to the submission the very same day, informing Whitehead of their decision to reject his proposal.
The lawsuit goes on to say that another attorney for Whitehead, Doug Coggins, submitted his script “Batman Blackman” to an agent of a Hollywood actor in California, for the actor’s consideration to star in Whitehead’s project.
Whitehead believes that the actor was tapped to star in Marvel’s Black Panther film, which is why Marvel has become a defendant in the lawsuit. Whitehead believes Marvel became privy of his script through its dealings with the actor.
Additionally, “Plaintiff believes and asserts defendant Walt Disney Company distributes the alleged infringing film ‘Black Panther’, and accessories, allegedly based on plaintiff’s copyrighted script ‘Batman Blackman,” the lawsuit states.
“The film Black Panther has a nearly all black cast, with two white characters, with one of those character depicted as CIA agent relating to the plot,” the lawsuit states. “In contrast, plaintiff’s script ‘Batman Blackman’ has an all black cast and he worked at the CIA for nearly seven years,” the lawsuit states, as examples.
Lawyers for Netflix and Viacom filed a response on May 28 to Whitehead’s claims, asking the court to dismiss the case. The defendants said the complaint should first be dismissed because the Texas federal court does not have subject matter jurisdiction over the “frivolous claims.”
The defendants said the claims should also be dismissed because they are duplicative of other cases that have been dismissed and also barred by other courts that have previously heard Whitehead’s case.“Indeed, Plaintiff’s claims are nearly identical to, and at times exactly the same as, claims he has filed in numerous courts across the country against an ever growing litany of entertainment oriented defendants,” lawyers for Netflix and Viacom stated.
The defendants said finally, Whitehead’s claims should be dismissed to prevent further waste of time, money and judicial resources.
“Plaintiff’s filings have been restricted in a number of jurisdictions and he is frequently deemed a ‘vexatious litigant,’” the defendants said.
The defendants further argued that the 30-film proposal that was rejected by Netflix is only an eight-page document containing the title and brief synopsis projects.
Defendant’s further argued that Whitehead claims Netflix improperly rejected his proposal after the chief content officer’s secretary reportedly requested the submission.
“He believes this communication constitutes a ‘solicitation’ of and contract for his work,” the defendant’s stated in their motion for dismissal. “Plaintiff concedes that Netflix responded within minutes of receiving the emailed transmission, denying the proposal, and interprets the immediate rejection as a clear indication of ‘fraud and negligence and violations of privacy.’”
“Without explanation, Plaintiff asserts that Netflix’s rejection of his submission also involves fraud and conspiracy to steal intellectual properties, and that one of his film project ideas submitted to Netflix, led to the creation of a film ‘Black Panther,’ currently shown by Netflix.”
Defendant’s further contended that the case should be dismissed because claims against Viacom are unrelated to the submission and rejection of Whitehead’s 30-film proposal and are based upon allegations of copyright infringement of Whitehead’s book titled “Brains, Sex & Racism in the CIA and The Escape. Whitehead alleges the concepts were used in the production of the movie and novel “Mission Impossible.”
“These exact claims against Viacom have previously been litigated and are thus barred,” the defendants noted.
“To the extent his claims surround the creation and distribution of the movie ‘Black Panther,’ there is no question that the film was based on the Marvel Comic character created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in the 1960s, long before Plaintiff submitted his ‘proposal’ to Netflix,” the defendants contended. “Plaintiff’s allegations here are thus consistent with the fantastic allegations Plaintiff has raised over the past two decades against a myriad of entertainment entities.”
The defendants go on to argue that Whitehead only filed this case in the Eastern District of Texas because he is prohibited from filing in his home district without special permission of the court, and this district happens to be nearby.
“This case is thus nothing more than another episode in a long line of meritless cases, the goal of which appears to be for Plaintiff to bully Defendants into paying him to go away,” the defendants stated.
The lawyers, who are also representing Walt Disney Co. and Marvel Entertainment in the case, filed responses for those defendants on May 31, informing that the defendants had not been properly served in the case.
Since the filing of the suit, several motions have been filed for change of venue. The plaintiff, Whitehead, first filed a motion on May 24, asking the court to change venue to Louisiana, California or New York, alleging that the clerk’s office gave him false advice relating to filing his original pleadings.
On June 4, Netflix and Viacom followed up with their own motion to transfer to a federal court in California should Judge Payne decline to dismiss the case.
“This case has no relevant connection to the Eastern District of Texas and should be transferred to the Central District of California,” the motion states.
The motion goes on to say California would be suitable because all of the defendants either reside in the California or do significant business there.
On June 6, Whitehead filed a second motion, asking the court to unseal a federal investigation and then transfer his case to New York.
“Over 100 judges or more ruled against me having conflicts of interest, with most having pecuniary interest, including several judges in the State of California,” he stated, giving his reasoning.
In response to the various court systems barring his case, Whitehead wrote in his lawsuit that he believes that previous adverse rulings against him on other cases involves fraud on the courts by officers of the court, including judges.
“We just want a judge who doesn’t have any stocks and conflicts (in the case),” he told the News Messenger.
In his third amended suit filed June 5, Whitehead added a dozen other companies, including, but not limited to CBS Inc., Comcast, Sony Home Entertainment and Lionsgate Home Entertainment as defendants to the suit, citing other works of his that were allegedly infringed.
Attorneys for Netflix and Viacom, Walt Disney Co. and Marvel Entertainment Inc. are Jennifer Doan and Cole Riddell, of Haltom & Doan of Texarkana. A hearing has been set later this month on the defendants’ motion to transfer the case to California.
“I think this is an important story for all people, all artists, and even people who go into our court systems and legal systems,” he said.