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Author Sues Matrix Writers over Copyright Infringement

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Little known writer Sophia Stewart is suing Joel Silver, Warner Brothers, 20th Century Fox, and the Wachowski brothers after she claimed that her short story was the basis for the successful Matrix and Terminator franchises. Although this case may yield the biggest payout in Hollywood history, there has been little news about case, despite the fact that there are court records and memos that prove its authenticity.

In the case, Ms Stewart alleges that these movies were based on a 41 page short story she had written entitled “The Third Eye.” She sent the work to the Wachowski brothers in the mid-to late eighties after they requested ideas for sci-fi works. “The Third Eye,” according to her fans and backers, has many similarities to The Matrix trilogy, which has grossed 2.5 billion dollars worldwide.

Stewart’s lawyers also argue that Warner Brothers had full knowledge that the script for the Matrix series was plagiarized, and FBI investigators have found that many scenes from the original movie were cut out to try and avoid a lawsuit. In addition to the copyright infringement charges, Ms. Stewart has also brought federal RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization) charges against the film studios as well.

Sophia’s lawyers have successfully defended multiple attempts to throw this case out, with the most recent motion happening in September 2004. Both sides will go to court in July 2005 if a settlement isn’t reached.

Although Ms. Stewart is African American, she claims that race has nothing to do with her situation. Several fan sites have been created to support Stewart’s case and Matrix message boards have been buzzing about this news for months. Fan site, has more information and court documents.

(Stone blogs at Article Online)

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  • Scott Pepper

    Very interesting stuff. But I found this comment confusing:

    Although Ms. Stewart is African American, she claims that race has nothing to do with her situation.

    What would race have to do with this situation? Why does Stewart even need to claim that it is not a factor?

  • Stone

    A fan site asked her that question in an interview and it was mentioned on a couple of fan sites, emails, and press releases.

    And although I haven’t seen it, there have been claims of racism on various message boards and Matrix fan sites.

  • mrbenning

    How long has this case been going on? Since before the first movie, or only after she let them gross that much money?

  • Danver

    This story will evaporate soon. Ms Stewart is insane. First of all, in the mid-to-late eighties the Wachowskis were graduating from high school (Larry in ’83, Andy in ’86), and flunking out of college. Why would Ms Stewart send her brilliant idea to two out-of-work carpenters?

    The claim that scenes were cut from the original movie is a complete fabrication as well. I read the first draft of the script and most of it ended up in the movie.

  • DrPat

    Sophia’s lawyers have successfully defended multiple attempts to throw this case out, with the most recent motion happening in September 2004.

    I doubt the courts would allow this to continue unless there is some substance to the claims, Danver. Note that some of this legal activity is in the federal court system, as well…

  • DrPat

    I also note the original court documents stated:

    In the summer of 1986 Stewart answered an ad in a national magazine in which the Wachowski’s were looking for a science fiction manuscript to make into a comic book. [Emphasis mine.]

    Hardly the same as send[ing] her brilliant idea to two out-of-work carpenters to be made into a movie, is it?

  • Steve S

    I remember when I was very young, reading a sci-fi series called Shadowrun. The premise of that series was that we were all living in a computer program, just like the matrix, although I don’t recall it being powered by human bodies as well. It was so similiar, when I first saw the Matrix, I thought ‘oh, they made that series into a movie’.

  • Eric Olsen

    you were shorter then, Steve

  • Dave Nalle

    What makes me curious about this suit is that with all the sites supporting her claim, not one of them provides the actual text of the story which is the basis of the suit. You would think that if it’s so close to The Matrix she’d want us to be able to read it and see for ourselves.

    This reminds me a bit of F. Paul Wilson’s suit against James Cameron over Alien. He claimed that Alien was a direct ripoff of the concept and plot of his book The Keep, just translated into space. He won that suit, despite the fact that some fairly significant changes were made, including the gender of the main character.


  • Steve S

    That’s true! I’m trying to remember, I think there was a Zion in it, and there was the concept of the Oracle for sure. I don’t remember if it was called the Oracle.

  • DrPat

    There’s an Amazon ASIN (1555603718) for a game-book on the 90s video game “Shadowrun” – one of the user reviews says:

    What I like about the setting is that it offers a detailed future history that explains how all the technology and fantasy elements ended up in the same setting. It feels reasonably self-consistent. The only serious hole is the idea that a mishap with a computer plugged into a character’s brain could injure the character. Who would build a computer-brain interface without the firewalls and surge protection necessary to prevent a software-domain mishap from causing physical harm? Who would use such a product? Temporary disorientation makes sense, but physical harm doesn’t. That’s a common cyberpunk convention, however; even _The Matrix_ follow it.

    Along with the technology and fantasy ideas of the setting, there is the social system. The world of Shadowrun is an amoral dystopia where corporate power eclipses all governments. Money can buy anything, even military might, without meaningful restraint of laws or governments; the police are corporate employees who protect corporate interests, but protect ordinary citizens only incidentally. In short, it is pure Libertarianism….

    There is a whole series of Shadowrun novels based on the game, most by Robert N. Charrette. The earliest seems to be Choose Your Enemies Carefully (0451451252), released in 1991, but I may have missed something…

    The game (SEGA, ) is described as:

    The year is 2050 and the megacorps rule by the power of information. Everyone is on file in the global main frame… everyone but you and a handful of ‘invisible’ outlaws called shadowrunners. Move through the grim and magical realities of futuristic Seattle and uncover a diabolical plot that could destroy the world. Team up with spell casting mages, wire-headed deckers or mythic orcs and trolls of the distant past. Take on a variety of shadowruns including: Cleaning up the streets, jacking into the Matrix for a big time cyber-heist or pulling off a risky ‘Corporate Extraction.’ Stalk the cities in real time combat and glide through the virtual battlefield of the Matrix where an encounter with Black ICE may be your last.

    The movie The Matrix was released in 1999, so I guess we might want to ask if Sophia Stewart tried to sue SEGA and Robert N. Charrette as well…

  • DrPat

    Oops, I left out the ASIN for the video game, B00002ST8W.

  • mrbenning

    Is that the same Shadowrun that’s also a tabletop RPG? If so, then there’s been videogames based upon it as well.

    If I recall correctly, there are more than a few similarities.

  • Steve S

    That sounds like it might be it. I didn’t know it was based on a game, and perhaps it wasn’t as far back as I thought. Obviously memory is vague on this.

    The Matrix was corporate controlled rather than computers run on their own. It and all the things like orcs, trolls were hologram type from when you were jacked in, things that people thought were real. But it was set in a time of hovercrafts and laser guns, etc.

  • Bill Wallo

    To those who would suggest that the fact that the case hasn’t been dismissed as of yet somehow signals that it has merit, please remember that the general standard for a motion to dismiss is even higher than a motion for summary judgment, and each require the trier of fact to assume all facts as pled in the complaint are true. That means that getting a case dismissed is quite difficult; the deck is stacked against early dismissal and in favor of litigants getting their day in court. BTW: such cases have to be brought in federal court since copyright infringement is covered by federal law.

    Actions like this are quite common; people sued over Twister, too. Ideas can’t be copyrighted, so that poses a problem for many creators, but some still do figure their idea was the one that launched a successful franchise (notice, if you will, that nobody claims their script was stolen for Ishtar). The fan site referenced in this post is a wildly fantastic thing in and of itself, and I note that Stewart’s claims relate not only to The Matrix films but The Terminator films as well.

    She’ll get her day in court, if the defendants don’t finally agree to settle for nuisance value. And if it goes that far, she’ll lose. Reading the judge’s ruling on the motion to dismiss indicates that the majority of her claims are on shaky ground at best.

    As an aside: how can the same 45 page story be the basis of both The Matrix films and The Terminator films? Oh, wait: here it is. She contends her 45 page story is a “scientific account of futuristic life.” Written in 1981, so compelling and unique that it couldn’t get published anywhere, or launch a writing career (how about a novel, already, if those mid-80s film deals never materialized) in the 18 years from when she supposedly first wrote it until the moment in 1999 when she saw The Matrix. Color me unconvinced.

  • Greg Smyth

    Received wisdom is that The Matrix is verrry similar to Grant Morrison’s uber-comic The Invisibles.

  • Danver

    I never said that she sublitted her idea for a movie. The fact is that she never sublitted her idea to them at all. Period. Andy Wachowski was at Whitney Young High School in Chicago in 1986 and Larry was at Bard College in New York State.
    What is the name of the “national magazine” in question? What’s the date? It should be easy enough to prove.
    No such ad was placed nor answered. It’s a lie.

  • DrPat

    Anyone have a copy of the Matrix script? It’s available on Amazon (1557044902)…

  • Dave Nalle

    She never submitted the story to the people who produced the movies? And it was never published either? Ooh, good luck with a lawsuit based on THAT.


  • Richard

    A.E. Van Voight was the author of “voyage of the space beagle” a short story very similar to the concept of “Star Trek”, but I bet he did’t get jack.

  • DrPat

    Dave, her claim is that she did submit her manuscript in response to an ad for stories to be rendered as comics, and that substantial “bits of business” that appeared in the theatrical release version of The Matrix were identical to elements in her story. Not just general story-line resemblance, not simple similarity of concept.

    Stone writes, “She sent the work to the Wachowski brothers in the mid-to late eighties after they requested ideas for sci-fi works.” That’s not exactly the same as I found on the linked web site:

    In the summer of 1986 Stewart answered an ad in a national magazine in which the Wachowski’s were looking for a science fiction manuscript to make into a comic book.

    It’s just possible that a couple of creative mavericks might see an opportunity to create a comic book while still undergraduates in college (or high school). I doubt their ages would be listed in such an ad; perhaps their names were not, and Stewart only became suspicious when she saw so many of her own images and ideas in movie.

    Bill Wallo has pointed out that Stewart has to present substantial evidence to achieve anything once this goes to court. She may have better luck getting a settlement; she certainly seems to have a large group of spiritual supporters. (Who may or may not be willing to support her with donations as this hooraw goes on…)

  • Stone

    Yeah, I’m somewhat skeptical about how this manuscript may or may not have landed in the Wachowski brothers hands, and I still approach this with some degree of skepticism. However, since this case is going to trial (in a RICO case nonetheless), the government must believe that this lady has serious charges and not just a random hack.

  • Leoniceno

    As I understand it, the Wachowskis were out of work college drop-outs at that point. I’d read that there were some timeline problems going on, anyway.

    A similar thing happened with ‘Harry Potter’, a lady claimed that J.K. Rowling had stolen the word ‘muggles’ from her. She actually had a book in print with ‘Muggles’ in the title, though.

  • MsMeno

    Thought this had all been decided in October 2004 that she won. Anybody have that info?

  • MarkD

    Academically speaking, the whole debate about ‘origin’ and ‘authenticity’ is quite funny (or rather: ironic) considering the premise of the movie(s).

    But if we do want to split hairs, why should Jean Baudrillard not file suit, as he wrote about the matrix as early as 1981. Also, the history of Neo’s life seems to be entirely based on the life and times of Jesus Christ (including wonder works and ultimate self-sacrifice).

    I’m sure its pretty horrible that hard-working authors never receive formal acknowledgment while Hollywood producers get rich, but we must remind ourselves that not a single idea is unique nor original. Putting existing ideas into meaningful contexts is – and I think that is exactly what the Wachowski’s did.

    But then again, I am not a legal expert.

  • Tom French

    Could you imagine seeing the second two matrix movies then wanting credit for them?

  • DrPat

    MsMeno, the article states

    Both sides will go to court in July 2005 if a settlement isn’t reached.

    There was a great Spider Robinson story about intellectual copyright, in which he explored a future where every song stayed under ferocious copyright in perpetuity. That’s fiction – the fact is that more is needed than a vague “resemblance” or a single word or name.

    We’ll all find out with Stewart and the Wachowskis in July this year, looks like.

  • dr.strangeteeth

    the woman is a lunatic and you are all feeding into her psychosis

  • bobjoe

    “What would race have to do with this situation? Why does Stewart even need to claim that it is not a factor?”

    History is why race is a factor. Back in the day there were not strong copyright laws as there are today. As a result, white singers used black artists’ music without consent. In short, they stole black music and tried to make it their own. Example: Pat Boon. He took Little Richard’s music and made it his own.

    btw i’m asian, not afro american

  • chessgames56

    Come on now, stealing is stealing. Look how big of a fuss the movie and recording industries are making about illicit downloading. And it happens all the time, people taking credit for other people’s ideas and work.

  • clarkie

    she says race has nothing to do with it yet she claims that white men would not have thought to use black characters as heroes (morpheus, oracle). until the book she wrote gets published, how can anyone fully believe her? not just have a select few people who try and evaluate it, but the public, millions of different people looking at these two stories, each one of them with a unique take on the story. then, after she builds herself a MUCH stronger case, then try and sue these guys.