Apple seeks dismissal of Servant plagiarism lawsuit

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Apple TV+ Servant promo image.
Apple defends against plagiarism allegations.
Photo: Apple

Apple asked a federal judge on Tuesday to toss a movie director’s lawsuit, arguing similarities between her work and the Apple TV+ series Servant are “common” and “unprotectable ideas” found in other works.

Francesa Gregorini’ has accused Apple, and Servant’s creators M. Night Shyamalan and Tony Basgallop’s of ripping off her 2013 film The Truth About Emanuel. Both movie and television series features a traumatized parent who hires a babysitter to care for a baby that turns out to be a doll.

In a motion filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in California, Apple offered an explanation to each of Gregorini’s examples of alleged copying.

“Plaintiff Francesca Gregorini’s lawsuit is another example of that obsessive conviction, so common among authors and composers, that all similarities between their works and any others which appear later must inevitably be ascribed to plagiarism,” Apple wrote in its motion to dismiss. “This truism is particularly applicable to Plaintiff’s attempt to claim ownership over unprotectable ideas, including a grieving mother who believes a therapy doll is her decease child or ‘white, sophisticated, and privileged’ parents hiring a nanny for their ‘well-put-together home.’ These concepts are taken from real life and are found in countless movies, television programs and other words.”

Servant lawsuit and Apple’s defense

Apple’s legal team defending Servant cited some of the “countless” works as they compared plot, sequences of events, themes, settings, mood, pacing and dialogue.

The motion explained that Gregorini “mischaracterizes” similarities between the two productions and points out more than two dozen examples. 

“There are numerous other differences between the plots of the works,” the court documents read. “Emanuel is portrayed from Emanuel’s perspective—indeed, the film starts with her voiceover. In Servant, the perspective is the opposite, as the series explores who (or what) Leanne is and where she came from.”

Apple lawyers also criticized Gregorini’s suggestion that a production centered around a doll coming back to life is not exclusive to her work.

“A doll coming to life is hardly a new concept, having been explored in countless works, from the classic 1883 children’s novel Pinocchio to last year’s remake of Child’s Play,” it read.

The defendants asserted that while Emanuel and Servant each unfold “in a roughly linear chronology,” it is not something that is protectable under the law.

“The primary themes in Emanuel and Servant, beyond grief and delusion, are drastically different,” the motion read. “Emanuel and Leanne are almost nothing alike… Beyond a few generic and unprotectable traits shared by Emanuel and Leanne, they could hardly be more different.”

Gregorini issued a statement later Tuesday, expressing confidence that the judge will see the “unmissable similarities” once the two works are reviewed side-by-side.

“You dismiss someone that you don’t value, so it’s no surprise that after plagiarizing my work, M. Night Shyamalan and Tony Basgallop, Apple and the Servan production team are trying to silence me once again,” her statement read. “We need to end the culture in Hollywood where the traditional power brokers are free to steal and repurpose others’ original work without fear or consequence.”

Cult of Mac’s Brad Gibson co-wrote this report