Plagiarism Or Coincidence?

Nigel Watson


Talking Pictures alias talkingpix.co.uk

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Writers are always worried that when they send their works to publishers, agents or film companies their ideas will be copied without any acknowledgement or payment. Legitimate companies assert that they will always credit and pay for works they use - but they would say that wouldnít they? It is certainly a concern for new and unknown writers. 

I know that in 1988 I put forward to the BBC an idea for a programme about computers and computer games, and something very similar appeared on Channel 4 about a year or two later. Another time I sent an idea for a programme to the BBC about a secret government agency that investigated UFOs. A few months later The X-Files appeared. In both cases I donít think there was any plagiarism of my ideas. Anyone can think of a broad concept (a film feature spaceships and robots) itís in the detail that we can find plagiarism. If it is obvious they have seen your ideas and copied your characters, situations and plot lines then you might have a case. It is a very difficult area to judge and it shows why many film companies will not look at unsolicited scripts.

To highlight these points I recently got this email from Aleksandar Skocajic: 

1) I got an idea to write an original story in the form of film a
screenplay in the first half of 1993, and prepared writing in the Summer of 1993. 

2) In Autumn 1993 I contacted a scientist , Jacques Marie Bardintzeff, at the Institute of volcanologie, Paris, France, who sent me some of his works. 

3) I finished writing my screenplay in April - May 1994, and after a few months, I registered my script entitled MAGMA TOWN (VOLCANO OF DEATH) with JAA - Yugoslavien Author's Agency at August 17, 1994, under registration number FIP - 35. 

4)  Starting from September 1994, I sent MAGMA TOWN to over 30 film companies and producers in Los Angeles, including and next 6 from 16, who sent me back letters about official confirmations they have received MAGMA TOWN : - George Lukas (Director and Producer), I sent him in September 21, 1994, - Walter Mirisch (Producer), I sent him in October 13, 1994, - TOUCHSTONE PICTURES, I sent them in December 29, 1994, - WARNER BROS, I sent them in December 30, 1994, - CAROLCO PICTURES, I sent them in February 9, 1995, - CASTLE ROCK PICTURES, I sent them in March 13, 1995. 

5)  In the time of October - November 1995 this is what happened next:
 
a) Jerome Armstrong, screenwriter of film VOLCANO (FOX), has sold his script to FOX 2000 PICTURES for $500,000. 

b) Leslie Bohem, screenwriter of filM DANTE'S PEAK (UNIVERSAL), has sold his script to UNIVERSAL for $1,250,000. 

c)For me unknown screenwriter of film RING OF THE FIRE, sold his script to TOUCHSTONE PICTURES (WALT DISNEY STUDIO) for $800,000. RING OF THE FIRE has never been shot. 

All evidences you can find in : Daily Variety, November 6, 1995. Article with title Volcano to erupt at Foxwritten by Dan Cox in Daily Variety, May 6, 1996. Article with title Jones jumps into Fox's Volcano written by Anita M. Busch in Hollywood Reporter, November 6,1995. Article with title Fox 2000 hot for Volcano written by Kirk Honeycutt . Also check web site : "http://www.klaneagency.com/armstrong_press.htm" "volcano" - Los Angeles Times, August 23, 1996. Article with title Hollywood Is Paying More Than Ever For Hot Novels. Also check web site : "http://www.crichton.org/?articles=21

6) In the beginning of June 1996, UNIVERSAL PICTURES, JOSEPH M. SINGER ENTERTAINMENT (now : SINGER/JENSEN ENTERTAINMENT), PACIFIC WESTERN (now :WALHALLA MOTION 
PICTURES), MCA (VIDEO), and UNITED INTERNATIONAL PICTURES started with shooting its film DANTE'S PEAK, and soon after TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX, FOX 2000, ORIGINAL FILM, DONNER/SHULER/DONNER PRODUCTIONS, started with shooting film VOLCANO. 

7) Opening date of the movie DANTE'S PEAK (UNIVERSAL) was February 7, 1997, and of the movie VOLCANO (FOX) was April, 25, 1997. 

8) From opening dates till November 28, 1997, these movies have had gross earnings worldwide : DANTE'S PEAK (UNIVERSAL/UIP) = $178,800,000 and VOLCANO (FOX) = $120,500,000. Also, based on unofficial sources DANTE'S PEAK and VOLCANO have grossed from video cassettes and DVD discs $210,000,000 world wide.

9) Also, I have recently discovered that HarperCollins Publishers Inc. from New York published two books VOLCANO using also my screenplay MAGMA TOWN. Here, regarding both paperbacks, I give to you the next notices : 

 V O L C A N O - L.A. erupts in 1997 
(written from Jerome Armstrong and story by) 
Novelization by Richard Woodley, published 
through HarperPaperbacks in May 1997, 
ISBN :0-06-101165-7 

V O L C A N O - The Coast Is Toast ! 
(written from Jerome Armstrong and story by) 
Novelization by Cathy East Dubowski, 
published through HarperTrophy in 1997, 
ISBN :0-06-440690-3 

Also, publishing company W H Smith from London, United Kingdom, also has published book VOLCANO. I have found new information about 3 books VOLCANO printed in England : ISBN : 0708940676 ISBN : 0006510485 ISBN : 0061011657 You can also find it if you go on web site : "http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/books/n9/n45027.htm?authorid=8091" and open it with ENTER. 

Truly, both books are little different written than film VOLCANO, and also they are in some way different, regarding each other. I have found that in film VOLCANO are about 240 identical or very similar scenes with my script and that is the base of my lawsuit v. FOX. In both paperbacks there are less identical scenes with my screenplay than it is in film VOLCANO (probably J. Armstrong and both novelizators R. Woodley and C.E. Dubowski have changed parts of plots and some scenes), but it stayed pretty much the same. 

10) Following legal conditions by the US law, I have registered my screenplay MAGMA TOWN and by UC Copyright under US legal requested term of 5 years after first registration and that by US Copyright Office in Washington at August 12, 1999., under registration number PAu2 - 419 Ė 701. 

11) Because of copyright infringement and pure plagiarism I have sued all above film companies in Spring of 2000, by the District court in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. 

Very truly yours, 
Aleksandar Skocajic 

What do you think about the issue of plagiarism and how can it be combated?
 
 
 
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