On June 22, 2022, a New York federal judge dismissed a claim by popular TikTok creator Kelly Manno against Michael Che (former cast member on Saturday Night Live.) Manno claimed that Che copied a comedy bit posted on her TikTok account for his HBO show “That Damn Michael Che.” Manno sued Che, NBCUniversal, (which produces the show,) and WarnerMedia (which owns HBO Max) alleging copyright infringement.
Manno’s sketch involved a service that would allow a user to call for help from a “homegirl” in certain social situations (called “Homegirl Hotline”). Che’s sketch involved a similar service which allowed a user to call for a “homegirl” but Che’s sketch specifically related to men “call[ing] a homegirl to fight his battles since he cannot be seen striking a woman.”
U.S. District Judge Denise Cote granted Defendants’ motion to dismiss the Complaint on the grounds that the sketches were not “substantially similar.” As the court stated, “[t]o establish wrongful copying, a plaintiff must show a substantial similarity between the defendant’s work and protectable elements of her own work…. In analyzing the protectable elements, courts “examine the similarities in such aspects as the total concept and feel, theme, characters, plot, sequence, pace, and 10 setting” of the works.”
The court held that the plot device of hiring a service to remedy a problem was not protectable – “In fact, this order-and-arrival structure flows naturally from the general premise of hiring a service to address a problem. The service a customer orders necessarily arrives after one requests it.” Therefore, the ideas in Manno’s sketches were not protectable and the court granted the motion to dismiss.
The case is Manno v. Michael Che Campbell et al., Case No. 1:21-cv-10642 (S.D.N.Y).