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Spike Lee and Nate Parker face infringement claim over American Skin

Spike Lee and Nate Parker are facing a copyright infringement claim brought by two independent film-makers over Parker’s 2019 film “American Skin”.

Brothers Selton and Langston Shaw say that “American Skin”, which follows a Marine veteran who takes matters into his own hands after his son is killed by a police officer, copied elements of the film from their screenplay “A Routine Stop”.

“American Skin” premiered at the 2019 Venice Film Festival, where it was billed as “A Spike Lee Presentation” and received a standing ovation, and has subsequently been released in cinemas and on streaming services.

The Shaw brothers claim that Parker and Lee took the idea for the film from their 2017 screenplay, pointing to the fact that both works focus on police violence against the black community, and alleging that Lee and Parker copied major themes, characters, story lines, the logline and other elements from “A Routine Stop”.

The brothers rely in their complaint on the fact that they submitted their screenplay to the TV One Screenplay competition, a contest organised with and supported by the American Black Film Festival.

It did not win the competition, but was circulated to a group of industry professionals who served as judges.

The complaint points to what it says are “uncanny” similarities between the works, including that: “Among other things, in both A Routine Stop and American Skin, the main character, with a group of his friends, kidnaps and puts on a “show trial” of the white police officer involved in the shooting”.

The Shaw brothers said: “We put our blood, sweat and tears into turning a tragic reality of society into a screenplay that would resonate with audiences, only to see someone else earn acclaim and profit from our work”.

“We filed this lawsuit to get back what was wrongfully taken from us.”

Their lawyer claimed that the similarities between the works were not a coincidence, but an “unlawful and deliberate attempt to usurp the Shaw brothers’ time, money and efforts to shine a spotlight on injustice.”

Neither Lee, a Hollywood legend whose “BlacKkKlansman” won the Grand Prix at Cannes in 2018, nor Parker, have yet responded to the claim.

Although complaints of this kind are not unusual, copyright infringement claims based on alleged lifting of plot and themes from existing works are difficult to prove – a 2006 claim against Dan Brown over his use of elements of an earlier work in The Da Vinci Code was dismissed by an English Court in 2006.