The God’s Not Dead $100M Lawsuit

god is not deadAccording to the Hollywood Reporter, David A.R. White and Pure Flix are being sued for God’s Not Dead. For $100,000,000.

That’s one hundred MILLION dollars.

And no, they are not being sued by a horde of angry atheist philosophy professors. Rather, they are being sued by a duo of fellow Christian filmmakers.

Again.

The new lawsuit is brought to you by director and producer Michael Landon, Jr (the son of Little House on the Prairie‘s Michael Landon – not relevant, but interesting) and writer Kelly Kullberg, wherein they allege that Pure Flix used Kullberg’s story ideas without proper credit or remuneration in God’s Not Dead.

The suit can be seen here in its entirety if you enjoy reading legal documents. If you don’t, I’ll summarize.

According to the suit, Kullberg and Landon wrote the script for a film called Rise, based on the story of a fictional Christian university student being harassed by an atheist philosophy professor. At some point while the script was being developed, Kullberg pitched the idea in detail to a potential investor, that person went on to share details of the story with Ted Baehr from Movieguide®, and Baehr shared those details with David A.R. White while they were on some kind of a “working vacation.”

The suit alleges that White and others in Pure Flix had been struggling to break story for Proof, an apologetics film they’d been developing, and this was the subject of his and Baehr’s discussion on said vacation. Further, the suit alleges that Baehr went on to tell White elements of Kullberg’s story that had been told to him by this potential investor, perhaps unaware that these elements were the intellectual property of Landon and Kullberg.

The next thing you know, Pure Flix drops Proof and not long after makes God’s Not Dead. That movie, as we all know, went on to make buckets of money (the suit says $140,000,000, but the internet says it is closer to $100,000,000). Either way, the overwhelming success of God’s Not Dead enabled Pure Flix to expand their operations exponentially; they developed a distribution wing that allowed their films to open wider than ever before, they became more involved in film production, they expanded their presence in the overseas market, and perhaps most significantly, they started a Netflix-esque home streaming service to attempt to meet the needs of the enormous faith-and-family-film demographic.

Interestingly, a similar lawsuit was brought against Pure Flix last year for $10 million. In that suit, producer John Sullivan and writer/actor Brad Stine alleged that they had also developed a script that closely followed the God’s Not Dead story line, the aforementioned Proof. But in their case, they had actually been working closely with White and Pure Flix to develop the script before they’d been dropped like a soggy eggroll.

[editor’s note: the suit doesn’t actually say anything about a soggy eggroll.]

Kullberg alleges that White was so inspired by the ideas behind Rise that he pulled out of Sullivan and Stine’s script, hired new screenwriters to write God’s Not Dead, and the rest is history.

On the one hand, it’s interesting that in both cases, White allegedly heard details from both story ideas, and details from both versions wound up in the finished product of God’s Not Dead. In Landon and Kullberg’s case, the similarities are pretty staggering, and it makes quite a compelling argument that it could very well be a case of copyright infringement.

On the other hand, people come up with similar ideas all the time, especially in Hollywood. Just look at these somewhat recent examples: Jobs and Steve JobsUnfriended and Friend Request; Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down. In the case of the atheist professor and the Christian student, both Landon & Kullberg and Sullivan & Stine developed the same basic idea independently. Not to mention that that variations of that story have been floating around for years.

So, what do we do with this? Is it typical Hollywood shuck and jive, just with a somewhat “sacred” bent? Is it another example of how absolute financial success corrupts absolutely? Is it more proof that Christians in business are just as susceptible to temptation and greed as anyone in business?

Is it another example why a Christian film industry is a bad idea?

Maybe. Maybe not. But it is a situation worth looking at as a cautionary tale (regardless who might be right, and who might be wrong), especially for Christians who are looking at getting involved in business or the arts, or just about anything where windfall profits are a possibility.

Meanwhile, those of us on the outside will sit back and watch how it plays out. Personally, I’m rooting for this to be resolved amicably, and then for Pure Flix to do the very meta move of developing this as the plot for God’s Not Dead 3.

Written by all six screenwriters, of course.

By the way, click this link to find some more details about the development of Sullivan and Stine’s screenplay by screenwriter Sean Paul Murphy, who was working with White and Pure Flix to help develop the script along with his writing parter, Tim.

[edit: Some people have commented that if the script wasn’t copyrighted, then Landon and Kullberg really don’t have a case. If you read the entire suit, you’ll see that Rise was copyrighted. The suit says, “Kullberg registered the Rise screenplay with the Writers Guild America in 2010 and with the United States Copyright Office in 2012.”]

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6 thoughts on “The God’s Not Dead $100M Lawsuit

  1. I’ve written up a full length, half-coherent response to this post on my blog (available here: https://nathanraesthoughts.wordpress.com/2016/06/09/nathan-raes-thoughts-on-a-pure-flix-lawsuit/), but as an aside I was never able to properly touch on, I noticed when reading the legal document that Ted Baehr of Movieguide had very strong ties to the people running PureFlix, with Mr. Baehr being explicitly quoted as having a family-like relationship with them. As the owner of a movie review site that he also writes reviews for, doesn’t that create a conflict of interest? Why isn’t there disclosure given in reviews of Pure Flix movies, especially with something that’s given top marks like God’s Not Dead? Are we meant to assume that Movieguide is trying to support the Christian film industry by putting a positive spin on terrible Christian films like what Plugged In sometimes does (looking at you, Left Behind Reboot)?

  2. Well l have read the case. And if Mr. White stole creative ideals from others it’s in my opinion he should make amends and give back. If he is using others abilities to further his career and saying he is serving community and God then this is not honesty. It’s unfortunate to those who lost out on this. But the world is full of creative theft. I am not the judge but if this conversation took place on a working vacation then it was done in a very strange way. Mr. White should do the right thing and admit this is what happen. God is a forgiving God. Hope we all remember that as know one is without sin. Just my opinion.

  3. I noticed that in the lawsuit that Kelly didn’t get it registered and copyrighted until after she told key points of Rise to Woody White and Woody then past it along to Ted Baehr who then told David! She copyrighted it 2012 and told Woody and Woody told Ted in 2009 so if she didn’t want her idea/screenplay stolen then why tell all the key points to someone! I say she is a fault for her own actions! I do think that if Kelly still wants to have her film made which she could if she added more to it! I think David and Pure Flix should finance it and so she wouldn’t have to pay if that’s what David and Pure Fllx wants to do or the judge rules that way! I think 3 million would be plenty for her and Michael Landon, Jr to make the film and have some left over to do whatever they want to do with it! I pray for everyone involved and hope that the judge rules in David and Pure Flix’s favor! I also think the other lawsuit should be dismissed too!!!!!

    • Copyrights are not definitive. Writers Guild registration also is not definitive and can be negated by a court that sees clears evidence of theft or misrepresentation at filing.

  4. The Message of God Not dead #1 & 2 should not be squabbled over; but rather a consideration as to how many souls have been saved. After all, God is keeping score—not the cash registers.
    Thank you:

    Pastor Ralph Unroe

  5. Screenwriters are by far the most vulnerable members of the film community and victimized too often and too easily. To hide behind the excuse that ‘oh well, there have been similar stories floating around’ does not absolve the dishonesty and shamefulness of making off with other’s ideas and not properly acknowledging them or paying them for it. There was a proven chain of access and perhaps the plot/story was shared in good faith. What is sad is that it was not resolved outside of court. Pure Flix made an enormous profit off of “God”. Most professionals do not just up and sue others for no valid reason or just because something was remotely similar in story or theme. I too read the pleadings and I think what was done was unethical and unfair to both sets of plaintiffs. If one operates a ‘Christian’ company then they should be held accountable to act like such in word and deed, in US law and God’s law

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