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Why Modern Family Was Sued For Copyright Infringement

To many, "Modern Family" brought a fresh spin to the time-tested family sitcom formula with flying colors. But early on in its run, one creator found the show's premise to be not only unoriginal but also surprisingly familiar. 

On July 23, 2010, Martin Alexander filed a lawsuit against the "Modern Family" creators, claiming that they had copied the premise of his own copyrighted sitcom concept, "Loony Ben." Having shopped his idea around to various networks and agents sometime before, Alexander believed that his work was used to craft what eventually became "Modern Family." Such similarities that Alexander noted include centering on unconventional family units, a heterosexual relationship between a white man and a Latino woman, a gay relationship between different-sized men and white parents who had an Asian daughter. The casting was even set to be very alike, with Ben Stiller set to play a role similar to Ty Burrell's Phil Dunphy, and Sofia Vergara herself was planned to be cast in the show as a similar personality to Gloria Delgado-Pritchett. 

Alexander sought to squeeze $30,000 per infringement out of the show, another $150,000 for any willful infringements and 50% of the exclusive copyright. The lawsuit would be dropped a year later by a New York judge who deemed the similarities not substantial enough to warrant a case. It was certainly a close call for the TV comedy, but it wasn't the only instance of the show finding itself in legal hot waters. 

It wasn't only outsiders who tried suing the show

The legitimacy of the copyright dispute against "Modern Family" may have been up for debate, but another legal battle nearly occurred that was unquestionable in its nature. In July 2012, the show's adult cast members filed a lawsuit against 20th Century Fox to void their contracts. 

The move came following the show's third season as the plaintiffs, including Ty Burrell, Julie Bowen, Eric Stonestreet, Sofia Vergara and Jesse Tyler Ferguson, sought to renegotiate their contracts for higher pay. While the higher-paid Ed O'Neil was not initially part of the lawsuit, the actor eventually joined his co-stars in solidarity. Even though the cast's contracts were good up until Season 7, breaks between Seasons 3 and 4 are a common time for actors to negotiate for better deals. Because of this, the planned table read for Season 4 was canceled. 

The first three seasons saw the majority of the adult cast be paid $65,000 per episode, with O'Neill making around $100,000. The network initially offered $150,000 for Season 4, which would increase to $325,000 if a ninth season came to be. However, the cast, who were more than aware of the show's booming popularity, dismissed the proposal, seeking to even double the new offers. 

Thankfully, it wouldn't take long for things to be settled. Only days after the dispute began, the actors' salaries were boosted to $350,000 by Season 8, and they themselves added an additional year to their contracts.