HBO and ‘Ballers’ Producers Hit With Copyright Lawsuit

Ballers Season 2 premiere date
Courtesy of HBO

Two writers have sued HBO, Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson and Stephen Levinson, claiming that the series “Ballers” is a ripoff of an idea that they had for a project called “Off Season.”

In a lawsuit filed on Thursday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, Everette Silas and Sherri Littleton claim that they had a deal to sell their show to producers Mark Ciardi and Gordon Gray, who through their Mayhem Pictures have produced such sports-related movies as “The Game Plan” starring Johnson and “Invincible” starring Wahlberg.

They claim that Ciardi and Gray gave a copy of a trailer, treatment and screenplay to Johnson and Wahlberg, with an eye for them in the lead roles. But according to their suit, Silas and Littleton refused to sign an agreement because it required them to remove their names from the “Created By” credit, which they refused to do. Negotiations then ended.

The HBO series “Ballers,’ which debuted in June, stars Johnson in the lead role. He also is executive producer along with Wahlberg and Levinson, who also was credited as the creator. The suit alleges that “the stories, character traits, scenes, and incidents portrayed in the two works, ‘Ballers’ and ‘Off Season,’ are, in many respects, virtually identical and strikingly similar.”

The lawsuit also contends that in May, 2007, after sharing their proposed project with Steve Mayer, who sat on the executive board of IMG Productions, he shared it with Chris Albrecht, a fellow board member. The lawsuit points out that Albrecht was CEO of HBO in an effort to establish that the premium channel had access to the project. But May, 2007, was the same month that Albrecht resigned from the network.

A spokeswoman for HBO said, “We are confident the case has no merit.”

The plaintiffs, who claim copyright infringement, seek an unspecified amount in damages. It identifies at least 27 instances where they see similarities in plot, scene, dialogue and character, starting with opening sequences focusing on stadium lights.

Deadline first reported on the lawsuit.