"Lost Boys of Sudan" Claiming Copyright over Spoken Interviews

In the 1990’s, Sudan was involved in a bloody civil war that killed hundreds of thousands of people. Many orphaned children fled the scene to make the arduous journey to safety in refugee camps in Kenya. Of these orphaned children, 3600 of them were relocated to America. 54 of these refugees sat down with an interviewer in Atlanta in 2003 and told their story which was subsequently used as the basis for a movie called “The Good Lie” starring Reese Witherspoon. This group of children, affectionately known as 'The Lost Boys', claimed they saw parts of the movie which contained direct excerpts from the stories they told the interviewers. After their lawyers negotiated unsuccessfully for some compensation from the companies that produced the movie, they decided to file suit against the screenwriter, the deceased film developer’s estate and the movie production companies.

'The Lost Boys' who were interviewed claimed they were promised compensation by the interviewers if their stories were ever made into a movie. In an interesting and surprising twist by the boys’ lawyers, they did not file a breach of contract lawsuit; instead they claimed that even though their stories were spoken words from an interview and not written down on paper, the boys still had copyrights to those stories. It was an approach that is fairly unprecedented in the court of law and could have an affect on how people’s rights to spoken words in interviews are viewed by law.

The defendant’s lawyers argued to get the suit dismissed citing two previous court cases in 1981 and 2000 that ruled spoken interviews were merely "expressions of ideas" and were not protected by copyright. The plaintiffs countered by insisting that the interviews were a "collaborative creative process" and were done with the intention of eventually making a movie. They also cited a 2013 ruling by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that said a recording of conference call made between the company Swatch and a group of analysts was indeed copyrighted material.

The lawsuit passed its first hurdle for 'The Lost Boys' on March 22, 2016 when an Atlanta District Court Judge allowed the lawsuit to proceed. The ruling stated they may indeed have some copyrights in the case. It must also be noted that not everything 'The Lost Boys' were asking for from the court was allowed to go forward.