The Tupac Shakur biopic, All Eyez on Me, has certainly garnered quite a bit of media attention since its release in June 2017. However, in addition to the criticism on social media that the film misrepresents Tupac’s life, a lawsuit has been filed claiming the film violates copyright law.
The copyright infringement case was filed by Kevin Powell, a former writer for VIBE magazine, who wrote three of the most widely read biographical articles on Tupac in 1994, 1995, and 1996. Powell alleges that his articles, along with his own life story, were used as the basis for the film, and that the film even stole the creative embellishments he added into the articles to protect Tupac.
Even though a person’s life story may be public knowledge, nonfiction works, like biographies, and even biographical magazine articles, are protected by copyright and intellectual property laws. Basically, any original writings can be protected by copyright law. However, when it comes to nonfiction, an author does not own the exclusive rights to a person’s story just because they wrote it. But, the author does own the rights over the way the story is told, such as which parts of the person’s life are discussed, the sequence, and potentially even characters in the story.
In Powell’s case against the film’s creators, he notes that one of the characters he wrote about in his Tupac articles, Nigel, was actually a fictional character he created to help tell Tupac’s story. The film allegedly portrays Nigel as a real character, despite being Powell’s creation. The lawsuit alleges that Powell was never contacted to license his work, nor was permission to use his characters ever sought.
Powell’s Own Story Stolen
In addition to Powell claiming that his written words were infringed upon, he alleges that the film actually stole his own personal story of meeting Tupac. All Eyez on Me is framed in the context of a journalist visiting Tupac in prison to get an exclusive story. Powell’s case claims that the film uses his own life’s story, as he was the real life reporter who went to the prison to get the exclusive interview with Tupac. Under the law, an individual owns the rights to their own life story, often referred to as the right of publicity.
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