Quinta Brunson and ABC sued for copyright infringement over ‘Abbott Elementary’

Many Abbott Elementary fans were thrilled with the love that the show and its cast got when the Emmy nominations were announced last week. We were all especially thrilled for series creator/write/star Quinta Brunson, who made history as the first Black woman to be nominated in three comedy categories in the same year. She wasn’t allowed to bask in that feeling for too long, though. The day after the nominations were announced, writer Christine Davis served Quinta and ABC with a lawsuit claiming they stole Abbott from her. Christine is suing for copyright infringement for her show, This School Year, and demanding they turn over all the profits they’ve made.

Abbott Elementary creator/actress Quinta Brunson has been dragged to court only one day after receiving multiple Emmy nominations, Radar has learned.

According to court documents obtained by RadarOnline.com, an aspiring writer, actress and performer named Christine Davis has sued Brunson along with the ABC network who airs the hit sitcom.

In the suit, David accused the defendants of copyright infringement and claims Abbott is a rip-off of her show, This School Year.

“Without [Davis’] permission, license, authority, or consent, [Brunson & ABC] knowingly and illegal used [Davis’] works to create the Abbott Elementary television show.

Davis wrote the script in 2018 and registered it with the United States Copyright Office in March 2020 — a whole year before Brunson’s show debuted.

In court documents, Davis said her show is a television comedy set in a New York City public school. IN her show, the principal hires filmmakers to film a documentary of the school.

In her show, the principal was convinced everything is going well and that the show is well-controlled and that the “teachers and students will adhere to her agents.” However, the teachers, staff and students have their own agenda.

The main character is named Ms. David who is a “young, idealistic teacher hoping to get tenure but also trying to convince everyone that the school needs to be reformed.”

Davis said she took her script to two women named Shavon Sullivan Wright and Cherisse Parks at Blue Park Productions in July 2020. She said she had at least three meetings about her work.

She said they told her ABC and HULU were looking for black, female-led comedies. Davis said Wright and Parks took the show to HULU but no deal materialized.

Davis said ABC then started shooting Abbott in September 2020 with Brunson as the lead and listed as creator.

“Additionally, the main characters are all stingingly and substantially similar. From the triad of young teachers whose roles are nearly identical,” the suit reads.

Davis’ suit demands Brunson and ABC turn over all profits they made from the show. The legal drama comes after Brunson earned Emmy nominations for acting, writing, and in the series category.

[From Radar Online]

Yikes. If Christine’s script was copyrighted in 2018, she’s got record that she wrote it and when. And if the script is as described above, the shows sound very similar. As do the characters, at least the principal and the Ms. David/Ms. Teagues. I only have what Radar is reporting to go off, but based on that, if any of Christine’s claims hold up, this’ll be messy.

That doesn’t mean I don’t have questions about this. I understand the scenario, as it is not an uncommon one in Hollywood: an unknown pitches a concept to an exec. The exec passes. Someone with more credits pitches an idea. The exec picks it up, but they want to make a few changes that just happen to be what the exec liked from the unknown’s pitch. It’s possible that happened here. But the names that Christine said she spoke to aren’t connected with Abbott – like Hulu, Shavon Sullivan Wright and Cherisse Parks. ABC and Quinta are associated with Abbott, but they aren’t mentioned as being in the pitch meetings back in 2018.

It’s confusing and I’m sorry it’s happening. We’ve heard where Quinta’s inspiration came from, and we know how much joy this show brought the cast and its audience. Like I said, if the information above is correct, I can see Christine’s stake here as well. I’m worried about the 100% profit demand, though. Some of that money went back to schools and educational programs. I hope this gets sorted out and everyone is allowed to enjoy their moment.

Photo credit: Avalon Red and Instagram

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21 Responses to “Quinta Brunson and ABC sued for copyright infringement over ‘Abbott Elementary’”

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  1. Wiglet Watcher says:

    I’m sure the 100% demand is just to start at the top and negotiate down if these claims even hold up.

    If the script wasn’t stolen then it’ll a be easy, but I’m betting it’s as described. Execs requested changes and maybe too many specific changes.

    Wright and Parks wouldn’t have to be at the meetings to have shared their knowledge of Davis’s script. Memos work their way around.

    • MeganC says:

      There have been sitcoms about schools going back to the golden age of radio. They all operate on the same basic riff of a principal no one likes, an earnest teacher trying to do good, and kids with lines that could only be written by adults.

      • Orangeowl says:

        Exactly. I took an advertising class and for the final project we had to come up with a print ad for a life insurance company. The professor pulled me aside and showed me one that someone had done a few years prior and it was almost identical to mine. I was shocked and embarrassed but she very kindly said “It’s really true that there are no new ideas.”

      • The Recluse says:

        Remember Room 222?
        There are few new ideas running around out there.

  2. ThatsNotOkay says:

    Sorry. She’s gonna lose. The thing about scripts, manuscripts, anything, is that you cannot copyright an idea. The actual scripts themselves have to be materially identical or clearly plagiarized or influenced by. Having a cast of characters in a similar setting does not a winnable lawsuit make. Sounds like she just wants a decent payout of sorts—and to never work in the business again. You start with demanding all profits and negotiate down from there. Notice how she didn’t demand anyone cease production. No, because that would cut into the money she hopes to see herself. Also, she has a meeting in July 2020 and they’re filming a pilot in September of the same year? That means they’ve been in pre-production since July and had a script in hand well before that. Just because you’ve copyrighted something doesn’t mean anyone else has access to it to read and steal from. This lawsuit holds no water. They might settle to make her go away, but truth be told, if it goes to arbitration or even a jury, she’s gonna lose, because at some point a judge will overturn anything a jury might conclude she’s won. I’m sorry she feels robbed, but there’s a 99% chance she wasn’t.

    • Persephone says:

      Came here to say all this.

    • BeanieBean says:

      That was the point that caught my eye: she had the meeting in July and the show started shooting that fall? No way that brand new show is based on her idea. Nothing happens that quickly in Hollywood. Even I, a member of the General Public, know that.

    • Debbie says:

      I tend to agree with this analysis. The principal people hate for whatever reason, the earnest young teacher, the guy she wants to get, the kooky other teachers are hardly novel characters in TV. Right now, we only have the plaintiff’s side of the story and her timeline, but even with the small details above it doesn’t seem like a slam dunk court case. She says she wrote her script in 2018, held a meeting in July 2020 and they started shooting the show in September 2020. That is some very fast turnaround. Let’s face it, until the established creator (Brunson) gives her own timeline the truth won’t be known.

  3. Snuffles says:

    This will end up getting settled out of court. She will probably get a percentage of profits. She’s not entitled to 100% because it was only a pitch and she didn’t write the weekly episodes or produce the show. She did nothing to bring it to life.

  4. Louise177 says:

    I don’t know anything about copywrite but I think it has to be more detailed. Having a camera crew following a school where the principal is clueless and younger people want change isn’t really an original idea. If they ripped off an actual script that would much easier to prove.

  5. M says:

    Why not sue as soon as the show was on the air? She specifically waited until the show was showered with accolades. Super fishy timing.

  6. Ms. says:

    I just read Conan’s article yesterday on how he settled a years long lawsuit with a plaintiff who says his Twitter jokes were stolen. Conan’s defense was that during any major current event, one can find about 25 people making the “original” same joke on Twitter the same day.

    At any rate, it’s the cast, the directing, the writing, and other creative elements that make a show what it is.

    • Debbie says:

      Speaking anecdotally, how many times do people post a comment about a story, then go on to read other comments just to see remarks very similar to what they’ve just posted. I know it’s happened to me here and I’ve also seen other people saying the same. I know that a show’s premise is longer than a comment but, as some have said, the character types are hardly unheard of.

  7. Erinn says:

    Nah. I don’t buy it. It’s not that similar other than just vaguely. Quinta’s character isn’t out there chasing tenure. She’s out there idolizing her older colleagues and trying to just be a good person. A young idealistic character is a given in a work place comedy. Janelles character didn’t hire film crews that I recall either – they were just trying to film at one of the schools with the highest turnover rate, and I don’t think Janelles character thinks anyone just automatically listens to her. She thinks they should of course but I wouldn’t say she’s that deluded despite being an over the top somewhat shady person. The overall idea that she’s claiming is copyrighted is so general and Quinta has said it’s somewhat based on her mothers career so certainly not unique to this other woman’s claims.

    I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this lawsuit only happened when the accolades came. This show has been heavily advertised and talked about for quite a while now. Someone’s bitter and looking for a pay day. You would also think ABC lawyers would have vetted this already… which makes me think that these claims are being thrown around NOW as a way to shame or humiliate during the peak of attention the show got so far.

  8. Lucy2 says:

    The premise of the show and of Davis’ script are not terribly unique, and I’m having a hard time believing she pitched it in July 2020, and a mere two months the Abbott team was able to steal the idea, write scripts, cast the show, build the sets, and all to start filming in September 2020.
    I would imagine there’s a well documented trail of work for Quinta too, when her show was pitched and written too.
    I don’t doubt that Davis is frustrated seeing such massive success for an idea similar to her own, but I can’t see how it’s possible that it was stolen from her and produced in that timeframe- especially in the middle of the pandemic.

  9. girl_ninja says:

    The writer says that she submitted the idea when Abbott already began production and filming. This is so fishy and I am fully suspicious of this suit. Cannot wait for the new season!

    • Gubbinal says:

      I have read various iterations of the show that were published at least as early as 1950. Teachers and kids at school. It’s one of the basic plot lines of all literature/tv/theatre, etc.

  10. tealily says:

    Does she have to prove that the people who made her show knew about her pitch? That seems like a tall order. Copyright claims are out of control.

    • lucy2 says:

      Yeah it seems like it would be more convincing if the producers Davis had pitched to were the ones who then produced the show, or were connected in some way, but it doesn’t sound like there’s a connection?

  11. swiftcreekrising says:

    It was also reported that the content of the first three episodes is nearly identical – down to the rug situation in the first episode. Abbott Elementary is awesome but if someone snaked entire episodes, that’s a problem that needs to be addressed. Before everyone says that this is nothing, perhaps we should actually see the content.


  12. Cat says:

    Abbot Elementary isn’t an original idea. It’s The Office set in an elementary school. It’s filled with stereotypes/archetype characters. The WRITING is what makes it good, not the premise. It sounds like the other show shares the premise, but that doesn’t mean anyone stole the idea — it’s a basic concept. I love the show, but it’s not Harry Potter.