20 F.3d 454 (11th Cir. 1994), 92-8902, Beal v. Paramount Pictures Corp.

Docket Nº:92-8902.
Citation:20 F.3d 454
Party Name:30 U.S.P.Q.2d 1762 Alveda King BEAL, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. PARAMOUNT PICTURES CORPORATION, et al., Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:May 11, 1994
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

Page 454

20 F.3d 454 (11th Cir. 1994)

30 U.S.P.Q.2d 1762

Alveda King BEAL, Plaintiff-Appellant,


PARAMOUNT PICTURES CORPORATION, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

No. 92-8902.

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

May 11, 1994

Page 455

Alveda King Beal, pro se.

Earline Smith-Montgomery, Atlanta, GA, for appellant.

June Ann Sanders, Nicholas Nathaniel Leach, Lesley G. Carroll, Troutman Sanders, Atlanta, GA, for appellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.

Before ANDERSON and CARNES, Circuit Judges, and SCHLESINGER [*], District Judge.

Page 456

ANDERSON, Circuit Judge:

In this copyright infringement case, Alveda King Beal appeals the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendants below, Paramount Pictures Corp. and Eddie Murphy. The court rejected the claim that the movie "Coming to America" violated the copyright in Beal's adventure novel The Arab Heart. 806 F.Supp. 963 (N.D. Ga.1992). Because we agree with the district court's conclusions, we affirm.


When called upon to adjudicate a copyright dispute, a court must compare the works in question. See Autoskill, Inc. v. National Educ. Support Sys., Inc., 994 F.2d 1476, 1490 (10th Cir.), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 114 S.Ct. 307, 126 L.Ed.2d 254 (1993). With that in mind, we have independently reviewed the book and the motion picture involved in this lawsuit, and will begin by briefly summarizing them.

  1. The Arab Heart

    Plaintiff-Appellant Alveda King Beal is the author of The Arab Heart, a novel she describes as a "historical tale of romance and adventure." The book's protagonist is Sharaf Ammar Hakim Riad, prince and sole heir to the sheikdom of Whada, a fictitious Arabian nation. As the book begins, Sharaf 1 has reluctantly agreed with the plan of his grandfather, Sheik Hussein, to send Sharaf to the United States. Hussein believes the heir would benefit from a year of technical training that would enable Sharaf to improve Whada's oil production. Although initially resisting the plan, Sharaf agrees to attend the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech), as long as he is allowed to live as a normal college student.

    As Beal contends, The Arab Heart has two main plotlines. One involves the political unrest in Whada, manifested by the efforts of Hussein's half-brother, Mansur, to take over the throne by means of force. As heir, Sharaf plays a prominent role in these events, though they may be characterized as centering on Hussein. For example, before Sharaf leaves for America, Mansur's forces carry out an unsuccessful assassination attempt at the palace involving both Hussein and Sharaf. The other plot involves Sharaf's adventures in America, which soon focus on his romantic exploits. It is this plotline that Beal contends was infringed by "Coming to America."

    Upon his arrival in Atlanta, Sharaf and his two bodyguards take up residence in a boarding house near campus. Sharaf shares his apartment with Mark Anderson, a black graduate student who initially harbors a dislike of those from different racial or ethnic groups. As the book progresses, however, Mark begins to appreciate cultures other than his own; this type of enlightenment is a major theme of the book. Through Mark and his girlfriend, Ebony, Sharaf is introduced to Flora Johnston. Flora is a shy college student and songwriter, the daughter of a well-to-do white man and black woman from Savannah. Sharaf is immediately interested in her. However, his attention also is drawn to Claire Eastman, a beautiful but opportunistic white woman from Boston. This "romantic triangle" plays a large role in the book. For example, Sharaf is invited to a Halloween party at the home of Flora's parents in Savannah. At the party, Flora performs a sensual belly dance for Sharaf, and Ebony sings a song Flora has written for him. However, Sharaf has brought Claire to the party as his guest. Although harboring feelings for Flora, Sharaf pursues his romance with Claire and the two become intimate.

    During this time, the book also develops the plot regarding unrest in Whada. Hussein travels to Georgia to meet with a financier and arrange the purchase of weapons. At semester break, Sharaf and Mark travel to Whada, where Sharaf undergoes training to prepare him to take over the throne should Hussein die. Hussein, recovering from an attempted poisoning, arranges a dinner at which Sharaf meets Kauthar, the daughter of Hussein's ally. The sheik hopes

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    Sharaf will make Kauthar one of his wives, but Sharaf resists. In the spring, Sharaf returns to Whada to quell an uprising by Mansur's forces; one of Mansur's sons is killed in the fight. During this visit, Sharaf tells Hussein that he is thinking of marrying both Claire and Kauthar. However, he also is influenced by his parents' atypical (for Whada) monogamous marriage and his attraction to Flora; he returns to Atlanta to finish school unsure of whom he should marry (and of how many wives he should have).

    Upon his return, Sharaf overhears Claire's conversation with a friend that reveals her prejudice and her intolerance of Arab customs. This ends any interest Sharaf had in marrying Claire. He rekindles his romance with Flora, and the two are married a few weeks later at her parents' home. Sharaf tells Flora and her father that he will try living with only one wife, although he is entitled to more. After the marriage, the book skips forward a year, with Sharaf and Flora living in Whada. Hussein does not fully accept Flora, largely because she has failed to give Sharaf a son. When Flora finally does become pregnant, she finds her husband in bed with a servant, which causes a strain in the marriage. The couple eventually reconciles, with an implicit understanding that Sharaf will continue his occasional infidelities but will be more discreet. Flora delivers a son, and exerts her influence to convince Sharaf to give more help to the needy of Whada. In a final battle, both Hussein and Mansur are killed. Sharaf becomes ruler of Whada, with Hussein's dying wish that Sharaf seek and value Flora's opinion.

  2. "Coming to America"

    "Coming to America" is a romantic comedy released by defendant Paramount Pictures. The film begins on the twenty-first birthday of Akeem, Prince of Zamunda (portrayed by defendant Eddie Murphy). Although little detail is given regarding the country, Zamunda is an African nation with a lavish royal palace situated in what appears to be a lush tropical forest. Akeem's father states that the time has come for the prince to take a bride; following Zamundan custom, a wife has been chosen for Akeem. The prospective bride is introduced at an elaborate ceremony. Akeem speaks with her in private; it becomes clear that she has been raised to show total subservience to her husband. After commanding her to do several demeaning acts, and her ready compliance, Akeem decides he would prefer an independent wife with her own opinion. He seeks his father's permission to search for such a bride in America. The king resists, but finally allows Akeem to go to the United States for forty days to "sow his royal oats," after which time he shall return and marry his arranged bride. Akeem accepts this arrangement, but secretly plans to find a wife of his choice in America.

    Akeem is accompanied to America by his friend and companion Semmi. The prince concludes that the logical place to search for a future queen of Zamunda is Queens, New York. Throughout his sojourn in America, Akeem is determined to find a woman who values him for himself, not for his wealth or position. To this end, he goes to great lengths to hide his true identity. His luggage and fine clothes are stolen, but Akeem does not mind. Akeem and Semmi take a dilapidated apartment in a tenement. The pair initially searches for suitable brides in a nightclub, but finds only comically inappropriate women. Neighborhood residents tell Akeem that he may have more luck at a black awareness rally. At the rally, Akeem first sees Lisa McDowell, a community activist and daughter of the owner of a fast-food restaurant. He is immediately attracted to Lisa; Akeem and Semmi take jobs in the restaurant so Akeem can get to know Lisa. Akeem soon learns that Lisa has a boyfriend, Darryl, the son of a family that owns a line of hair-care products. The Akeem-Lisa-Darryl triangle plays a major role in the movie. Lisa attempts to get Akeem interested in her sister Patrice, but Akeem continues to pursue Lisa.

    Several comic episodes take place with Akeem and Semmi in the restaurant, including the foiling--with a mop handle--of an armed robbery. Other scenes focus on the developing Akeem-Lisa relationship. During a party at Lisa's parents' house, Lisa becomes

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    angry with Darryl for announcing their engagement without first asking her. Akeem comforts Lisa and the two begin to date. Akeem continues to hide his true identity. However, Semmi tires of living the "common" life and wires Akeem's parents for more money. This request brings the king and queen to America, where the king tells Lisa that she would be an inappropriate bride for Akeem. Stung by the king's comments and Akeem's dishonesty in hiding his identity, Lisa rebuffs Akeem's proposal of marriage. Akeem returns to Zamunda, apparently to enter into the arranged marriage. However, when he lifts the bride's veil, he sees that it is Lisa. The movie ends immediately after the couple's marriage, when Akeem says he is willing to give up his kingdom for Lisa and she replies that the sacrifice won't be necessary.


    Although not directly relevant to this case, we note that the movie "Coming to America" has been the subject of another lawsuit that drew a good deal of...

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