This case involved claims of copyright infringement brought by WMTI Productions, WMTI Productions North, and The Next Season Company (Plaintiffs) against Kevin Healey, Propagate Content, and unnamed Does (Defendants). Plaintiffs alleged that certain episodes of Defendant’s shows Prank Encounters and Double Cross infringed on certain episodes of Plaintiff’s show Scare Tactics.
Specifically, Plaintiffs alleged the following episodes infringed:
- Prank Encounters “Camp Scarecrow” infringed Scare Tactics “Camp Kill”
- Prank Encounters “Face Fears” infringed Scare Tactics “My Heart Belongs to Misery”
- Prank Encounters “End of the Road” infringed Scare Tactics “Road Kill”
- Prank Encounters “Split Party” infringed Scare Tactics “Send in the Clowns”
- Prank Encounters “Graveyard Shift” infringed Scare Tactics “Bicentennialien”
- Double Cross “Open House” infringed Scare Tactics “Room with a View”
Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment arguing there was no genuine dispute of material fact on liability or damages. They also filed motions to exclude the testimony of Plaintiff’s proposed expert witnesses on liability (Paul Jackson) and damages (Tyler Massey).
Film and Television Industry Experts
Paul Jackson is a highly experienced film and television writer-producer, having worked in the industry since 1988. He has been a member of the Writers Guild of America since 1988, writing and producing numerous television series over his 30+ year career. His credits include serving as Executive Producer, Co-Executive Producer, Supervising Producer, and Consulting Producer on shows like Lois and Clark, Sliders, Charmed, She Spies, and When Calls the Heart. Since 1992, Jackson has arbitrated writing credits for the Writers Guild, which involves closely analyzing scripts and stories to determine the creative contributions of different writers. Through this work and his extensive experience as a “Writer-Staff” Producer, Jackson has developed expertise in comparing scripts and assessing similarities between stories, characters, sequencing, settings, and other elements. In this case, he was retained to analyze the alleged substantial similarities between Plaintiff’s Scare Tactics episodes and Defendant’s Prank Encounters and Double Cross episodes. Jackson provided detailed plot, character, sequence, setting, and mood comparisons between these works in his expert report, given his qualifications to conduct such analysis based on his 30+ years as a professional television writer and producer.
Tyler Massey has over 20 years of experience in the film and television industry, including roles in international content distribution, acquisitions, licensing, and financial analysis. He has negotiated hundreds of deals for formats, finished productions, and media rights across broadcast, cable, SVOD, and AVOD platforms. Massey has extensive expertise in market valuation, revenue forecasting, and cost apportionment for television programming. He has worked for production companies, studios, and distribution firms, evaluating content sales strategies and revenue projections. In this case, Massey provided a damages analysis regarding lost revenues and brand value for Scott Hallock/WMTI based on alleged infringement and substitution of Defendant’s shows for a reboot of Scare Tactics. His industry experience qualifies him to opine on these matters.
Discussions by the Court
The Court denied Defendant’s motion for summary judgment on liability. The Court found there was a genuine dispute of material fact regarding substantial similarity under the extrinsic test, which looked at objective criteria like plot, themes, characters, etc. Plaintiff presented evidence about the selection and arrangement of unprotectable elements that could constitute an original work. The Court rejected Defendant’s argument that Plaintiff failed to properly invoke a selection and arrangement theory and found the allegations in the complaint gave adequate notice.
The Court also denied summary judgment on damages. It found that Plaintiff presented evidence which supported at least some of their claimed damages categories tied to lost opportunities to monetize Scare Tactics due to the existence of Prank Encounters. For example, evidence indicated Netflix declined to exercise an option to produce new Scare Tactics episodes because its needs were satisfied after having acquired Prank Encounters around the same time.
Defendant sought to exclude the expert opinions and testimony of Tyler Massey, Plaintiff’s proffered damages expert, on several grounds. First, Defendant asserted that Massey’s damages calculations had no relation to Plaintiff’s infringement allegations because he analyzed harm to the overall Scare Tactics format rather than damages resulting specifically from infringement of the six copyrighted segments at issue. However, the Court found that damages to the value of the broader Scare Tactics series were recoverable under 17 U.S. Code § 504, which allowed recovery for any harm caused by the infringement, not just harm to the intrinsic value of the copyrighted work. Second, Defendant argued that Massey’s testimony was unreliable because it relied on layers of speculation, including assuming Scare Tactics would have been rebooted if not for the existence of the show Prank Encounters. But the Court noted that assumptions are a necessary part of any damages calculation given the counterfactual nature of a world without infringement. As long as the assumptions were reasonable and grounded in evidence, any flaws went to the weight of Massey’s testimony rather than its admissibility. Third, Defendant sought to preclude Massey from opining on substantial similarity between the works accused of infringement and the asserted copyrighted works, an issue on which he lacked expertise. The Court agreed Massey could not offer his own opinion on similarity, but he could calculate damages based on the assumption that the works were substantially similar. Fourth, Defendant moved to exclude one category of Massey’s damages related to infringement of a wholly unrelated work, Joke’s On You, which seemed to stem from a settlement agreement rather than any copyright violation alleged in the case. Since this category did not arise from the claimed infringement, the Court excluded it. Aside from this one category, the Court otherwise denied exclusion of Massey’s damages calculations and held his assumptions and speculation permissible bases for expert testimony.
Defendant separately sought to exclude the expert testimony of Paul Jackson, Plaintiff’s proposed witness on the similarities between the copyrighted Scare Tactics episodes and those of Defendant’s shows. Defendant argued Jackson failed to apply the extrinsic similarity test because he did not filter out non-expressive, unprotected elements before analyzing the works’ similarities. According to Defendant, this rendered Jackson’s opinion unreliable and unhelpful. However, the Court noted that wholesale filtering was not required under the selection-and-arrangement theory pursued by the Plaintiff, and in any event, Jackson’s similarity analysis methodology was valid and helpful to the factfinder. Which elements were protectable and which were unprotected scenes-a-faire was a factual issue for the jury to decide; Jackson could present his overall analysis, while Defendant could provide their own contradicting evidence on unprotected elements. Thus, Jackson’s failure to filter did not warrant exclusion but simply went to the weight the jury should accord his opinion. Defendant remained free to cross-examine Jackson and argue his testimony should receive little weight. But the Court denied exclusion of Jackson’s similarity analysis wholesale, finding his methodology sufficiently reliable despite the lack of filtering.
The Court largely denied Defendant’s motion to exclude Plaintiff’s damages expert Tyler Massey, finding his assumptions and speculative damages calculations were permissible bases for expert testimony. The only exclusion was one category of damages unrelated to the asserted copyrights. Regarding Plaintiff’s liability expert Paul Jackson, the Court wholly denied Defendant’s motion to exclude his substantial similarity analysis. Despite Jackson’s failure to filter out unprotected elements, the court found his similarity analysis methodology was reliable and helpful to the factfinder. Any flaws in his approach went to the weight of Jackson’s testimony rather than its admissibility. Thus, aside from one minor carveout, the Court denied exclusion of the expert analyses of both Massey and Jackson. The Court has not arrived on an outcome for this case since the remaining issues involved in this case still await resolution.
- The motion to exclude the expert testimony of Paul Jackson in regards to substantial similarity was denied by the court as his methodology was reliable despite failing to differentiate the unprotected elements. The flaws in the methodology of Jackson raised issues for cross-examination and not for exclusion.
- The motion to exclude the expert testimony of Tyler Massey was partially denied. Massey was permitted to make assumptions in relation to the calculation of hypothetical damages. Massey was prohibited from providing opinions in relation to substantial similarity, as he lacked expertise. The damages unrelated to the asserted copyrights were excluded from the testimony of Massey.
- Disagreements or flaws regarding the expert testimony are often ruled to go to the weight of the testimony rather than admissibility.
In summary, the key takeaways are that disagreements and questionable methodology choices generally should not be the grounds for the wholesale exclusion of the expert. In such scenarios, the court favors cross-examination and contrary evidence to address the flaws in the testimony of the expert.