Pras Michel, co-founder and former member of 90’s rap group The Fugees, has filed a lawsuit against Showtime over Sweet Micky for President, a documentary he produced. Michel alleges that the cable network has been airing the film on TV and online without his permission. Sweet Micky for President follows Michel’s 2010 journey to Haiti to launch a presidential campaign for Sweet Micky, a famous pop star in the country. Interestingly enough, Michel’s former Fugees band mate Wyclef Jean also jumped into the presidential race at the time. Sweet Micky was eventually elected, and was president until he resigned from office earlier this year.
Michel is suing the film’s co-producer and director Ben Patterson, too. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Michel claimed that he was initially interested in licensing Sweet Micky to Showtime, and that they had even entered into preliminary negotiations. However, he expressly told the network that he was the only person authorized to make any deals regarding the film, and eventually opted not to agree to the terms. Patterson allegedly moved forward with it alone.
The complaint, filed in a California federal court, stated, “Despite multiple demands by Plaintiff to cease the unauthorized exploitation of the Sweet Micky film, Showtime has refused. Instead, Showtime relies on a license agreement that was never signed by the Plaintiff to justify its blatant copyright infringement.” Currently, the film, which debuted on April 21st of this year, is prominently featured online in Showtime’s movie section, and is available for subscribers to stream. Michel believes that it has aired at least fifteen times and has been streamed countless times. “With every unauthorized broadcast or streaming online of the Sweet Micky Film, the film is devalued even further and Plaintiff’s opportunities to market and exploit the film to third parties are further diminished,” the complaint said.
With copyright cases, we typically are focused on the copying elements, but this case raises interesting issues around copyright ownership, which is an element Michel will need to prove as part of his claim, anyway. He’s saying he’s the only rightful owner, but Patterson clearly thought he could grant the license, too. Under the law, if more than one co-owner exists, permission is required from all of them for the assignment of the copyright or the granting of an exclusive license to another party. It will also be important to know what agreements existed between Michel and Patterson.
If you would like to know more about your rights as a copyright owner, please contact our firm.