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copyright So a major studio admitted to stealing my script...

So it’s 2021 and this goes back to 2015, so apologies for the saga—unless you like drama, in which case, settle in.

About me: I’m a 31 y/o writer. I have a small copywriting business, write and sell novels mostly for fun, and dabbled in various media i.e. screenwriting.

Beginning: I was in a debilitating motorcycle accident in 2015 that left me unable to walk for nine months. Ironically, I was hit by a major feature film director. I’ll skip the medical details but was staring down a long recovery period in physical stasis, was living in Los Angeles, and got it in my head to mess around with screenplays.

I had gotten pretty used to long-form (100k+ words) so a script was like hey, 20k? Let’s bang one out. Which is exactly what I did for three weeks during this period where I was bed-ridden. It was titled Scum, it was written under a nom de plume. I formatted it, packaged it, saved it, and kind of forgot about it, making the deal to myself once I was emotionally past the accident and physical therapy, I would blast it off and be world-famous. Maybe ten friends and colleagues read it and said it was good and they enjoyed the concept. The concept is unique. This is important later.

Middle: A year later I followed through. I read the pitch emails, crafted an ‘engaging’ query letter, and like the newbie I was who hadn’t yet been scorned and never thought it was going to amount to anything, sent it to every email address I could find. This included, specifically, the major agencies in Los Angeles. I received, well, four rejections from about eighty queries. Whatever, I’m used to that. This is early 2016. The project has lived in my email and Google Docs and that was where I thought it would remain.

End: I was having a viewing party of the fourth season of WestWorld at my place here (not in the USA) as I have a movie theater. Cue collective WTF from me and my friends, who stood up, incredulous, as the EXACT concept of Scum played put in the season premier, with the same dialogue.

The next day I dug in my email and found an opened receipt for a query to Jonathan Nolan’s agent at WME. He wrote this episode. I reached out to HBO (owned by WB) who, of course, never responded. I spent the next week interviewing intellectual copyright lawyers about this and said yeah, it was outright stolen.

BUT

They don’t own me credit, residuals, royalties, payment, or ANYTHING. All because I didn’t in my query stipulate that it was being sent to be considered for purchase. HBO finally reached back out and all but admitted they stole it, and gave me some ‘helpful’ pointers as to how my work would not be stolen in the future. Thanks!

So here I am. My first ever script was stolen and produced into a major, highly-rated television drama with serious talent attached. I’m pissed. I’m more than pissed. All I wanted was a credit and like, some taco money. I never expected anything from this script in the first place.

However, that doesn’t mean I was giving it out for free. Be warned and make sure you take care of yourself, legally.

Anyone know how I can work this into a career? Ha!

TLDR: Warner stole and produced a script, but won’t pay or credit because it was a “gift.” Can’t use it as leverage as it is now useless, since it was already produced and aired. No kudos given.
 
Okay i will tell you again exactly what you wanted. You "just wanted a discussion."
These are your own words!!!
Well yeah, but I'm pretty sure you're wrong with your assumptions about what I wanted. Obviously the discussion was a stepping stone to a bargaining table. I didn't just want a friendly chat and that's it. You came out of the gate pretty hot for some reason. Of course I emailed them and wanted to talk. In the interest of time and money it was my hope they would have just said ok fine, shut up. Here's a writing credit and 10k. That'd be cool. I'm not greedy, I just want recognition where it's due. SO I'M NOT SURE EXACTLY WHAT I WANT EXCEPT A CREDIT :deadhorse:
 
Well yeah, but I'm pretty sure you're wrong with your assumptions about what I wanted. Obviously the discussion was a stepping stone to a bargaining table. I didn't just want a friendly chat and that's it. You came out of the gate pretty hot for some reason. Of course I emailed them and wanted to talk. In the interest of time and money it was my hope they would have just said ok fine, shut up. Here's a writing credit and 10k. That'd be cool. I'm not greedy, I just want recognition where it's due. SO I'M NOT SURE EXACTLY WHAT I WANT EXCEPT A CREDIT :deadhorse:
I think you should see a lawyer. It will be more helpful...
 

sfoster

Staff Member
Moderator
Well yeah, but I'm pretty sure you're wrong with your assumptions about what I wanted. Obviously the discussion was a stepping stone to a bargaining table. I didn't just want a friendly chat and that's it. You came out of the gate pretty hot for some reason. Of course I emailed them and wanted to talk. In the interest of time and money it was my hope they would have just said ok fine, shut up. Here's a writing credit and 10k. That'd be cool. I'm not greedy, I just want recognition where it's due. SO I'M NOT SURE EXACTLY WHAT I WANT EXCEPT A CREDIT :deadhorse:
Your exact quote was "I just wanted to discuss the revelation with their legal team." which is exactly what you got.
The only assumption I made was that you meant what you said, which apparently was wrong because now youre saying you wanted more than a discussion.

It sounds like you wanted a writing credit but didn't ask for a writing credit?
People will not give you things you dont ask for.
 

indietalk

IndieTalk Founder
Staff Member
Admin
I may want to discuss my broken window with you it doesn't mean I don't want you to pay for it. Damn dude. LOL. You really being a hardass.
 

sfoster

Staff Member
Moderator
I may want to discuss my broken window with you it doesn't mean I don't want you to pay for it. Damn dude. LOL. You really being a hardass.

Maybe you want an apology. Maybe you just want me to learn from my mistake so it doesn't happen a second time?
Not everyone is fixated about money or thinks its so important.

Especially small amounts like a broken windows worth.
My point is that if you want something you have to take it!!!!!

Or at least ask for it NICELY.
If you don't even ask you think they're gonna make an effort to give you money? That's LOL.

I was trying to help the person, I ask about the email and whats the answer I get?
Their email was a toneless message designed to generate discussion.

I mean come on!!! How about an email with a POSITIVE tone and "I just wanted some form of credit"
 

indietalk

IndieTalk Founder
Staff Member
Admin
Here's a couple points. If you have a real case against a giant you might find a layer pro bono. And if you can't find one pro bono you can literally pay them for their time drafting the initial letter. So you don't have to drop a big retainer you can literally pay an entertainment attorney to draft a letter, and send it. It's probably an hour or two fee until you get the response, if any. At that time they may see a case and ask for a retainer, etc. This is how many people do C&D letters.
 
HBO finally reached back out and all but admitted they stole it, and gave me some ‘helpful’ pointers as to how my work would not be stolen in the future. Thanks!

If they sent that email, then show it to your intellectual property lawyers and see if there's grounds for a lawsuit. You may have a certain time limit to start your legal action, so don't delay. Good luck!
 
The harsh reality of it is you've made at least one error.

In life, you're going to make lots of errors. Once you're aware, you can learn from them. How you move forward and whether you continue to make those errors is for you to decide. Whether you self destruct or smartly soldier on is entirely in your hands.

On a side point, out of interest, did they steal your script or a concept/idea?
 
Your exact quote was "I just wanted to discuss the revelation with their legal team." which is exactly what you got.
The only assumption I made was that you meant what you said, which apparently was wrong because now youre saying you wanted more than a discussion.

It sounds like you wanted a writing credit but didn't ask for a writing credit?
People will not give you things you dont ask for.
I literally for the third time have said their legal team DID NOT talk with me. Where is this beef coming from?
 
Here's a couple points. If you have a real case against a giant you might find a layer pro bono. And if you can't find one pro bono you can literally pay them for their time drafting the initial letter. So you don't have to drop a big retainer you can literally pay an entertainment attorney to draft a letter, and send it. It's probably an hour or two fee until you get the response, if any. At that time they may see a case and ask for a retainer, etc. This is how many people do C&D letters.
This is my next stop, glad we reached the same conclusion independently
 
The harsh reality of it is you've made at least one error.

In life, you're going to make lots of errors. Once you're aware, you can learn from them. How you move forward and whether you continue to make those errors is for you to decide. Whether you self destruct or smartly soldier on is entirely in your hands.

On a side point, out of interest, did they steal your script or a concept/idea?
Both. I made a reddit post but it was removed. They stole the concept and changed the name of the app (bid for crimes) but the concept is directly stolen. Which in itself was bad, but when I hear verbatim dialogue that's when I knew it was mine
 
Maybe you want an apology. Maybe you just want me to learn from my mistake so it doesn't happen a second time?
Not everyone is fixated about money or thinks its so important.

Especially small amounts like a broken windows worth.
My point is that if you want something you have to take it!!!!!

Or at least ask for it NICELY.
If you don't even ask you think they're gonna make an effort to give you money? That's LOL.

I was trying to help the person, I ask about the email and whats the answer I get?
Their email was a toneless message designed to generate discussion.

I mean come on!!! How about an email with a POSITIVE tone and "I just wanted some form of credit"
How about that was only my initial contact with them so I wanted it sans emotion? You dont exactly message Warner Brothers and "take" anything....
 

sfoster

Staff Member
Moderator
If you don't have a position of strength to negotiate and take what you want then I would argue that tone becomes even more important!!!
Most of business involves selling - selling a product, selling a service, SELLING YOURSELF. And in sales your pitch is at least as important as the product.

I wish you best of luck with the next step in your writing career and if you contact a lawyer.
Who knows what you want... is it money, is it credit? Maybe you just want a pitch meeting with some execs for more of your brilliant ideas?

WB is probably afraid you will sue them. If you dont want money I would lead with the fact that youre not after a payday.
If you offer to sign something that releases them from all future liability it may appeal to them as an out of court settlement and take away their fear of responding in emails.

But you've got to think on it exactly what you want IMO and then be direct and clear in your pursuit of it.
 

mlesemann

Staff Member
Moderator
They stole the concept and changed the name of the app (bid for crimes) but the concept is directly stolen. Which in itself was bad, but when I hear verbatim dialogue that's when I knew it was mine
As I'm sure you know, you can't copyright a concept so the dialogue would likely be the key point for legal action.

Do you have access to that episode of Westworld? Season 4 doesn't SEEM to be streaming yet, as far as I can see?
If you can get it, transcribe the copied dialogue and show it parallel to yours, along with documentation that you registered the copyright on yours before you sent it to them.

As others have said, get a lawyer who specializes in intellectual property to draft a letter for you that sets this out clearly, which shouldn't cost an impossible amount.

That's probably what you're already planning to do, but I've learned not to assume anything so I'm throwing in my nickel's worth.

Good luck!
 
As I'm sure you know, you can't copyright a concept so the dialogue would likely be the key point for legal action.

Do you have access to that episode of Westworld? Season 4 doesn't SEEM to be streaming yet, as far as I can see?
If you can get it, transcribe the copied dialogue and show it parallel to yours, along with documentation that you registered the copyright on yours before you sent it to them.

As others have said, get a lawyer who specializes in intellectual property to draft a letter for you that sets this out clearly, which shouldn't cost an impossible amount.

That's probably what you're already planning to do, but I've learned not to assume anything so I'm throwing in my nickel's worth.

Good luck!
Thank you. Good advice. Already planning it but good to know the opinion/direction is shared! And yes...Season 3 Ep. 1
 

indietalk

IndieTalk Founder
Staff Member
Admin
This is my next stop, glad we reached the same conclusion independently
Finding pro bono for this type of case will be near impossible however, these are very hard to win and very expensive and you don't have a name. Your best bet it to get a free consultation with a few attorneys and see which one thinks you have a case and wants to fight. I had to do this once for a financial reason and found a real shark. His attitude was like hell yeah we have a case here especially since (a, b, c) and another I had a free consult with told me there was no case. Well, I won. It's in the expertise and drive. Find a GOOD lawyer.
 

indietalk

IndieTalk Founder
Staff Member
Admin
And if a good lawyer says you basically gifted it to them (as you stated), you should move on lesson learned because these cases are expensive and you only want to move forward (in my opinion) if it's a slam dunk.
 
Late to the party...

I read through all this pretty quickly. I did not read that you sent the script but that you queried all those email addresses. Is that correct? It doesn't seem like it could be correct since you're saying they lifted actual dialogue from your script. The reason I'm asking is because IF you did query all those emails first and THEN they asked to read the script? You're golden as long as you have all those emails.

If you just shotgunned the actual script out there? You still have a case but it would be more difficult to win.

A good Hollywood Entertainment attorney would get HBO or whomever to settle out of court. As for your credit? Depends on how much of your script was actually lifted. If you've got correspondence that's tantamount to HBO or whomever actually admitting the lifting of your concept and or other elements? You're golden. You just need a good Hollywood Entertainment attorney.

They ain't cheap though. The MORE of a case you have? The more they might take your case on a settlement agreement. The less of a case you have? It's gonna cost.

Hard to tell how much of a case you have from this thread though.

Good luck no matt what.
 
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