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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.
 

indietalk

IndieTalk Founder
Staff Member
Admin
Good point. Slam dunk case = settle fast = less $ spent on attorney. Or you can fight. $$$$$.
 
Good point. Slam dunk case = settle fast = less $ spent on attorney. Or you can fight. $$$$$.
I've dealt with HBO a few times... They're actually a pretty decent company with a few bad apples... Just like any other place. There's no way they would WANT to be trashed through media for any kind of theft when it comes to material. Even if they were complicit? It would be difficult to believe they knew they were complicit since they have more than enough money to pay for a concept or script. Having said that? It would take an Entertainment Attorney to GET THEIR ATTENTION.
 

indietalk

IndieTalk Founder
Staff Member
Admin
Yes, I'm not sure about his first mistake and the gifting of the screenplay (I'm not up on that), but the second mistake was emailing without representation. However that is not irreversible, just get your attorney and the case going if it has merit.
 
Yes, I'm not sure about his first mistake and the gifting of the screenplay (I'm not up on that), but the second mistake was emailing without representation. However that is not irreversible, just get your attorney and the case going if it has merit.
Not quite UP on that either as per the explanation in the thread. I do know however, your Entertainment Attorney could easily get a few expert witnesses (if it actually went to court) to prove that ONE of the ACCEPTED methods of selling a screenplay is via email query. A good Entertainment Attorney could even STRETCH that to sending the script as an attachment without having been asked to read the script as a method for marketing a script.

Anyone who knows and understands this business also knows and understands that there is NO ONE WAY to sell your material. That's why most producers, agents, and managers won't accept unsolicited screenplays. The IDEA is to query and get asked to READ the script which turns your unsolicited script into a solicited script.

That's where I'm a bit hazy here... There's obviously no way anyone could have lifted your dialogue unless you sent the script. So did you send the script out WITH the QUERY or after they said they were interested? If you've got a registered copyright like you say? And they lifted dialogue? Seriously...

They are screwed.
 
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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.
Sorry about the details. I fired it off like an idiot to any email address I could find (that didn't explicitly state to not send unsolicited)

I was quoted starting 75k retainer. I dont have that kind of scrill kicking around, sothe big man wins
 
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.
Yes. 75k starting retainer (least expensive offer) to lawyer up vs. Warner, for a suit where there are holes in the case, despite me being 100% correct in my direction
 
If the retainer is that high and you explained your case and they took a look at it, you probably do not have a good a case as you think.
I don't think I have a great case in the legal sense. Morally, I know I'm right. I could have chased this but I chose not to pursue it at that level, though I will send the letters you and others have mentioned and see if that will light any fire. I am a writer on some major platforms online and they probably wouldn't want this to get passed around, strong case or not
 

indietalk

IndieTalk Founder
Staff Member
Admin
If it was word-for-word dialogue the case is strong and you need to shop around.
 

indietalk

IndieTalk Founder
Staff Member
Admin
Another thing you can try if you can't afford an attorney is to find some legal services online where an attorney will write letters on your behalf for a much smaller fee. Coming from an attorney is going to require ANY STUDIO to forward the letter on up to their legal department. Until an actual attorney contacts these entities, they are just going to ignore you. That's standard operating procedure.

*EDIT: There are services like LetterDash that can do this for you on the cheap.
 
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Another thing you can try if you can't afford an attorney is to find some legal services online where an attorney will write letters on your behalf for a much smaller fee. Coming from an attorney is going to require ANY STUDIO to forward the letter on up to their legal department. Until an actual attorney contacts these entities, they are just going to ignore you. That's standard operating procedure.

*EDIT: There are services like LetterDash that can do this for you on the cheap.
Good stuff, but for something potentially large, I would pay for the letter from a powerhouse. Thanks though!
 
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:
Hi ,
You remind me about one story I read long long ago, a writer wrote script and send it to agent who sold it to big studio and told the writer you didn’t clarify that your want to sell it!!! That writer made them payed him a lot with simple trick. He went to his friend and told him you own my script copyrights coz you wrote it not me 😹 and my name is your pen name, so go and sue them. The studio told him we got your email. The writer friend told them I don’t send any email and how the fucck trust any email. Finally they payed the writer friend 34 millions.
 
Hi ,
You remind me about one story I read long long ago, a writer wrote script and send it to agent who sold it to big studio and told the writer you didn’t clarify that your want to sell it!!! That writer made them payed him a lot with simple trick. He went to his friend and told him you own my script copyrights coz you wrote it not me 😹 and my name is your pen name, so go and sue them. The studio told him we got your email. The writer friend told them I don’t send any email and how the fucck trust any email. Finally they payed the writer friend 34 millions.
Fiction, right?
 
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