A Great Day For Writers: The Matrix is Ruled Plagiarism! [UPDATED]

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It's the oldest story in Hollywood: The Writer Gets Screwed. Repeatedly. Badly. And is left without recourse. Occasionally, however, the Writer gets un-Screwed, justice prevails, and there's a big fat payoff.

Such is the case with The Matrix. It's long been rumored that The Matrix was an uncredited homage (Or ripoff) of a short story published in 1981 by Sophia Stewart, and called "The Third Eye." The always-tedious Wachowski brothers denied this, of course, as did the studio. They continued to deny it over the course of the six-yearl-long legal battle to establish where the story came from, and of course there were plenty of character-assasination attacks on her.

Not directly from the Wachowskis or the Studio, of course, that's not how these things work. Instead, bagmen and shills for them spread dischord among fanatical fans to slur her name and reputation. You know, the usual. This is the same kind of thing Paramount did when it was trying to tell everyone that Babylon 5 was a ripoff of DS9, despite the mountains of evidence to the contrary.

To be honest, I don't know why Studios do that kind of thing. I mean, I can totally understand Paramount not wanting a credit on DS9 that says "Based on Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry and Babylon 5 by J. Michael Straczynski," and I can totally understand them not wanting to share the money (They settled out of court eventually to avoid the credit thing), but I don't get what they hope to gain by angering their own fanatical fans. What? A jillion mouthbreathing troglydites who have nothing to do with the entertainment industry or the legal system are somehow going to...what? Cause lawyers and jurors to come over to your side? Scare the plaintiff in to running away? Change time and space for your own immediate benefit? I'm a bit fuzzy on the logic here.

I'm even fuzzier when it comes to The Matrix. With The DS9/B5 thing, at least they could hope the angry mobs would frighten local stations in to not syndicating B5, but what's an angry mob going to do that can affect the status of a film franchise that ended a half-decade ago, and which ended up disappointing damn near everyone? It's not like they're ever going to make another movie. It's not like that last movie is going to get any less crappy. What are they hoping to gain by firing people up?

Probably it's all just to make them feel better.

In any event, the original story was written by Ms. Stewart as a wakeup call for nonbelievers, attempting to swing their attention back to God and away from the illusions of this world. The courts found that a half hour of material had been trimmed from the first Matrix movie to make it less like Ms. Stewart's story. This is interesting both because the Wachowskis and the studio knew full well that they were ripping her off, and took pains to obscure it, but it's also interesting becuase it means there could concievably be a directors' cut of the film with this additional info in it, and if so I'd REALLY like to see it. The producers are out a lot of money in the judgement, so releasing a longer cut of The Matrix might go a long way towards recouping that loss. This also explains why the 2nd and 3rd movies in the series were so weak: they were original creations of the Wachowskis, and not direct ripoffs of Stewart's original story.

I'm not entirely sure how it's involved as I've not actually read "The Third Eye," but evidently a substantial ammount of material was lifted from it to form the premise of the first Terminator film. This is funny because I didn't know there was a connection there, but also because my friends and I have joked for years that "The Terminators want to build The Matrix," which, in retrospect, appears to be the case. What makes this even more interesting is that The Terminator had already lost one major plagiarism court case prior to this one: Harlan Ellison sued them saying it was derived from his old Outer Limits episode, "Demon With A Glass Hand." Again, there was plenty of evidence to support his accusation. Thus, the increasingly-beleagured Terminator franchise is rapidly becoming the most plagiaristic film series of all time. In any event, the courts were satisfied that much of The Terminator also came from "The Third Eye," so Ms. Stewart gets a big fat piece of that pie as well.

Good for her!

The judgements come to two and a half billion dollars in her favor.

It's not clear to me if Ms. Stewart borrowed ideas from "Demon with a Glass Hand" to write "The Third Eye," or if unrelated elements from her story were incorperated in to that film. I'm sure subsequent court cases will determine that, and if Mr. Ellison deserves a part of her payoff. In any event, this is a victory for writers everywhere, and an (Unexpected) vindication for our frequently wonky legal system.

It's a good day all around!

More details here http://www.dannyjohn-jules.com/news.aspx?newsID=10


Turns out I'm a big 'ol idiot (no surprises there), and the story isn't true. Evidently some old information was erroniously re-published last month, which is how I heard about it, though some of that info is confusing. For instance, I'd never heard that she claimed some of The Terminator was based on her work, though it's common knowledge that The Terminator plagiarized "Demon with a Glass Hand" by Harlan Ellison, and I don't get how an old "Accidentally republished" news story would include information about her receiving a billion-dollar judgement against a studio when no judgement was ever awarded. I suspect there's some conflation between her lawsuit and Harlan's lawsuit. Presumably the result of a poorly-researched story, which, of coruse, I'm totally guilty of myself now. Sigh.

The bottom line is that Ms. Steward sued the Wachowski brothers and their studio for a billion dollars, but the case was dismissed in 2005 when she failed to show up for court. She claims she's going to persue it, but as of the last four years, she evidently hasn't. Details are available here http://www.snopes.com/politics/business/matrix.asp And I'm sorry to have misled you.