Team behind popular ‘S-Town’ podcast settles lawsuit with estate of central figure John B. McLemore

National

(Courtesy of This American Life, Serial Productions)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — After two years in court, a lawsuit against the makers of a popular podcast set in on the western side of Alabama by the estate of its primary figure has now been dismissed.

On March 12, the case involving “S-Town” and the estate of John B. McLemore was dismissed after the two sides had reached a settlement, although lawyers just recently finalized the agreement. In the suit, which was filed in July 2018, the executor of McLemore’s estate claimed that the show revealed personal aspects of his life without his permission, in addition to using his likeness to promote the show, making money off him and violating Alabama’s Right of Publicity Act.

“S-Town” is a podcast about the life of McLemore, a horologist who lived in Woodstock, Alabama who committed suicide in 2015. The show was originally conceived when McLemore contacted “This American Life” reporter Brian Reed about a story. Through interviews, Reed formed the show around McLemore and explored his life and the place he lived.

“S-Town” was released in March 2017 and has been downloaded over 90 million times around the world.

In an interview with CBS 42, “S-Town” executive producer Julie Snyder said she is glad the lawsuit is finished. She did not provide details on what the settlement entailed.

“I’m incredibly relieved to have a resolution to this,” Snyder said. “I feel like it’s been misunderstood and the conceptions of the lawsuit.”

Craig Cargile, executor of McLemore’s estate, wrote in a statement to “S-Town” that was given to CBS 42 that through the course of the lawsuit, he learned that McLemore was an active participant in the show up to his death and volunteered a lot of information about himself.

“As the administrator of the Estate of John B. McLemore, I declare that the estate has no objection or claim to the podcast, nor does the estate have any objection or claim to any future uses of the podcast or the journalistic and creative work relating to John B. McLemore by the defendants or their designee,” Cargile wrote.

In his initial complaint, Cargile argued that “S-Town” violated the state’s Right of Publicity Act and profited off McLemore. However, lawyers representing “S-Town” contended that the work was journalism and was not covered by the act.

“It was never clear to us what the plaintiff’s argument was,” Snyder said. “We felt we were caught in this netherworld of defending ourselves from something I was not understanding what the argument was.”

Nonetheless, Snyder feels the lawsuit would have been something that McLemore would have enjoyed.

“We thought John would probably think it was hilarious,” she said.

Following the premiere of “S-Town,” there was talk in the media about turning the show into a movie. At one point, it was rumored that “Spotlight” director Tom McCarthy was set to direct a film adaptation, but Snyder said that discussions never got that far.

“We had been in discussions about a movie, but the lawsuit put that on hold,” she said. “Now, we’re back into early stages of development.”

Snyder said that in addition to being grateful for litigation on the case being finished, she is glad that she, Reed and the other producers were able to prove that everything they did was by the book.

“We take that seriously and we wanted to set the record straight,” she said.


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