Judge throws out plagiarism lawsuit involving Apple TV+ show Servant

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Apple TV+ Servant promo image.
Not a copycat, judge rules.
Photo: Apple

A federal judge has thrown out a copyright lawsuit against Apple and director M. Night Shyamalan claiming that Apple TV+ series Servant stole its core idea from a 2013 independent movie.

As with the spooky Servant, the movie The Truth About Emanuel is the story of a traumatized parent who hires a babysitter to look after a baby that (spoiler alert) turns out to actually be a doll.

The lawsuit, which was filed in federal court in California earlier this year, argued that Servant was a “wholesale copy” of the 2013 movie. “Mr. Shyamalan has gone so far as to appropriate not just the plot of Emanuel — but also its use of cinematic language, creating a substantially similar feeling, mood, and theme,” the suit read. It also argued that, “both works use magical realism to create an otherworldly mood.”

However, Judge John F. Walter ruled Thursday that there is not enough similarity to warrant a lawsuit. While there is certainly a “shared premise,” both stories “diverge drastically and quickly.” A shared premise is not something that can be protected under copyright law.

Servant vs. The Truth About Emmanuel

The judge pointed out that, for instance, in Servant the doll at the heart of the story comes to life. It is also a darker story, compared to the “hopeful and positive” Truth About Emanuel.

In a statement to Variety, The Truth About Emanuel‘s director Francesca Gregorini said that:

“Today’s ruling is disappointing, but not surprising. The balance of power in the entertainment industry has always favored powerful men and institutions. Their ultimate goal is to silence anyone whose work they steal and repurpose without credit. The Truth About Emanuel is a very personal labor of love. It took me years to write, finance, and direct. To have all that work stolen is not only hurtful, it disregards all the hard work needed to bring Emanuel to the screen.

Unfortunately, this is the status quo in the entertainment industry. Powerful, mostly male, forces work to take what they want from other creators and repurpose it as their own. Throughout this process, I’ve heard from countless other filmmakers whose work has been stolen without permission. And this is M. Night Shylaman’s third time being accused of unlawfully taking others’ work. Where there is smoke, there is fire.”

Added ‘layers of sexism’?

This is not the first time Francesca Gregorini mentioned sexism in her suit. Previous, Gregorini said that there was an “added layer of sexism” in what Apple and M. Night Shyamalan had done. Speaking to The Atlantic, Gregorini said in January that:

“[For Servant] to take something that is so personal to me, and obviously so female-centric—to take it, co-opt it, profiteer off of it, and then on top of that … [insert] conversations about the nanny being ‘****able’ and the mother being crazy … it’s angering, honestly.”

Apple asked for the lawsuit to be tossed in February. Its lawyers argued that any similarities were based on “common” and “unprotectable ideas” found in other works of fiction. Apple has already renewed Servant for a second season.