Whoa
December 6, 2004 1:18 PM   Subscribe

Mother of the Matrix? What if everything we experience is actually being delivered to our catatonic bodies by superintelligent robots? On a more practical note, what if the Wachowski brothers ripped off the ideas for their high-grossing trilogy from an unknown screenwriter who claims to have submitted it in response to a 1981 ad the brothers placed "requesting new sci-fi works?" (registration required, but it will deliver the goods while saving you the pain of parsing intentional spelling errors in "Da Ghetto Tymz"). Does the fact that the author claiming infringement is a black woman change the character of this story? It does seem like, considering where the case has gone, that it would be considered news. Just how long is the arm of Time/Warner/AOL/Skynet? In other stories, how many times will The Terminator be sued? (via PennyArcade)
posted by nanojath (70 comments total)
 
The only thing that changes my understanding of this lawsuit is that writers have been writing the "we're all really in a molecule of God's thumbnail/in a universe in a universe/in a snow globe/in the gears of a machine/in the circuits of a computer/characters in a book/in the mind of an insect/etc." since the science fiction genre was born.
posted by Mo Nickels at 1:24 PM on December 6, 2004


Having gone through a period (mainly between the, ahem, original and the first sequel) of (not something I'm necessarily proud of in retrospect), let's say, intense interest in the films in question - so if I'm rehashing something that's been done to death, my apologies, but it certainly was news to me.

Mo Nickels, I get confused at where the lines are drawn about lifting a theme versus plagiarizing a work. I was aware, for example, of Harlan Ellison's successful lawsuit over The Terminator and, being familiar with the works in question, always thought the case seemed a little soft (though I'm a fan of Ellison). Clearly the courts disagreed. In this case there seem to be a couple of potentially more damning elements - particularly the claim that Stewart's script was sent to the W brother's request, that specific material was taken out of the film in an attempt to avoid prosecution, and the claim that Warner Brothers employees made statements on the specific use of the script in the making of the film.
posted by nanojath at 1:33 PM on December 6, 2004


Related askmefi thread here.
posted by skallas at 1:36 PM on December 6, 2004


Thanks skallas and hmmm, I guess exhilaration and I are eating the same cornflakes today...
posted by nanojath at 1:48 PM on December 6, 2004


Plato should TOTALLY sue.
posted by eyeballkid at 1:50 PM on December 6, 2004


This is all pretty dumb. The Matrix was not very original in any way: it was just a rehash of themes that have been floating around the sci-fi ether for decades. Hell, I still have a short story manuscript that an acquaintance sent me ten years ago that is almost identical to the Matrix.
posted by neckro23 at 1:57 PM on December 6, 2004


It hardly makes a difference if she is black or not. She is just a person who believes she wrote the script. In pointing out the color of her skin, you are lending a particular bias prominence, even though it is not really relevant in this case.

It is like discussing E.T, and constantly referring to the director being Jewish. What does that have to do with anything?
posted by markesh at 1:58 PM on December 6, 2004


Matrix ideas predate Sci-fi by quite awhile, such as Descartes' "Brains in a Vat", or whatever variation he had.... this is an idea as old as.... well pretty darned old lets say, and is more philosphical based that sci-fi, all that other stuff is just flashy-trash. The Matrix taps into allot of archetype stuff is why so many people like it... or so I think, I'm a bit blase about it personally.
posted by edgeways at 2:03 PM on December 6, 2004


I bring it up because much is made of it in what passes for reporting on the topic, markesh, as the article I linked to that comment makes pretty clear. I happen to agree with you - as does, it appears, Ms. Stewart, who has stated in essence that it isn't about race, just money.
posted by nanojath at 2:03 PM on December 6, 2004


Her being a black woman matters because the "Matrix Reloaded" posits that the "Oracle," a computer program character depicted as a mellow old black lady, was the "mother of the Matrix."
posted by MattD at 2:06 PM on December 6, 2004


This would explain why the second and third films were so remarkably vacuous compared to the original. Well, that and the obvious cash-in.
posted by mek at 2:07 PM on December 6, 2004


Come on, everybody knows the Matrix as a straight ripoff of Grant Morrison's Invisibles.

/half-joking
posted by oraknabo at 2:08 PM on December 6, 2004


I think you're looking for the Evil Demon, edgeways. The "Brain in a Vat" variation is much more modern.
posted by jefgodesky at 2:08 PM on December 6, 2004


I have long speculated that the Matrix was a giant rip off of a Mr. Rene Descartes. Everyone knows that he claimed the only thing he could be certain of was "I am", as everything else could be malipulated by an outside force, which he supposed was a demon [1].

I believe a lot of great theater (theatre?) is stolen. Look at William Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" [2]. Ideas are unfortunately, worthless. Only when people act on them is it stealing, and even then it is shaky. Personally, I think the idea of copyrights are generally bunk. If I can make "X" better, cheaper, faster than you can -- I deserve the rights to it. Don't like it? Then hide your formula (Coca-Cola) or give consumers anothe reason to keep buying your product. Same applies with creativity.
posted by geoff. at 2:09 PM on December 6, 2004


Philip Kindred Dick, who had been slowly spinning in his grave for the past 20 years, woke up briefly, declined to comment, and went back to half-life, delighted at the confusion.
posted by elgilito at 2:11 PM on December 6, 2004


Come on, everybody knows the Matrix as a straight ripoff of Grant Morrison's Invisibles.

Throw in a bunch of nods to Gibson's Neuromancer (and the rest of The Sprawl books) and you're on to something.
posted by eyeballkid at 2:14 PM on December 6, 2004


I'm still trying to figure out how one screenplay can be the basis for both the Terminator and The Matrix.

Plus, if she wants to claim owership for the Terminator, shouldn't the Ellison case against Cameron be directed towards her instead?
posted by horhey at 2:15 PM on December 6, 2004


That college newspaper article begins strangely:

Monday, October 4th 2004 ended a six-year dispute involving Sophia Stewart, the Wachowski Brothers, Joel Silver and Warner Brothers. Stewart's allegations, involving copyright infringement and racketeering, were received and acknowledged by the Central District of California, Judge Margaret Morrow residing.

How does this end the dispute? It seems like more of a beginning than an end.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:15 PM on December 6, 2004


Wow. Your sued link is gold. My favorite part was this:

"Even though U.S. Copyright rules say you may have to get permission to copyright a derivative work, the strange mailing from LightStorm Entertainment in 1993, urging me to get an Apple computer and essentially keep working on the script, was a very subtle form of permission to continue. The very fact that I was never sued or directly contacted by Cameron's people at LightStorm Entertainment all of these years proves they were allowing me to continue with the Terminator 3 script on purpose."
posted by dobbs at 2:16 PM on December 6, 2004


Plus, if she wants to claim owership for the Terminator, shouldn't the Ellison case against Cameron be directed towards her instead?

Well that case was not based on a "supoosed" theft. Cameron mentioned off-hand to someone (who happened to be a friend of Harlan) that he wrote Terminator by taking ideas from his story The Soldier. Oops.
posted by dobbs at 2:19 PM on December 6, 2004


I also find it amusing that a person suing the Matrix "team" for copyright infringement is blatantly infringing copyrights by selling CDs about the case with the exact design concepts, elements and font used for the Matrix visual campaign.
posted by horhey at 2:37 PM on December 6, 2004


This reminds me (self-link) of how Richard Lupoff and Leon Arden both thought their plots - a character living the same day over and over - had been ripped off for Groundhog Day (failing to grasp that if they'd come up with the same idea independently, then so could someone else). Writers just don't get how unoriginal most ideas are.
posted by raygirvan at 2:39 PM on December 6, 2004


The Matrix was not very original in any way: it was just a rehash of themes that have been floating around the sci-fi ether for decades.

This reminds me of a college film professor I once had who, durring the Pulp Fiction craze, blasted the hell out of it for ripping off all its ideas from old movies. While that may have been true, he came across as a pompous pretentious stereotypical pissed-off French dude.

I've always enjoyed that fine line between influence/tribute and plagairism.
posted by afx114 at 2:50 PM on December 6, 2004


So far all I've seen is a press release from Ms. Stewart about how the defendant's motions to dismiss were denied. There's been no judgement, no award, no nothing... Its still in the trial (or pre-trial) phase.
posted by mrbill at 2:50 PM on December 6, 2004


"Stewart's allegations, involving copyright infringement and racketeering, were received and acknowledged by the Central District of California, Judge Margaret Morrow residing."

Okay, that's hardly a victory at all. The court got her paperwork/charges, and didn't dismiss them outright as BS. That's it....
posted by mrbill at 2:56 PM on December 6, 2004


Hey, if you right-click and do "save as" on the reg-required link you can read it for free (the system works by redirecting you, if you're not registered)

Just thought I'd mention it.
posted by delmoi at 2:57 PM on December 6, 2004


Well the unoriginality of Matrix and Stewart's The Third Eye are beside the point. The point is: did the Wachowskis have access to Stewart's work before their work on Matrix had begun and did they copy aspects or material from it. Like others have pointed out, the concepts are nothing new but there can be specifics that differentiate one story from another, and if these specifics were lifted, then Stewart might have a case.
posted by effwerd at 3:06 PM on December 6, 2004


There are only like five ideas in the world anyway. It's the style with which you pull off your presentation of them that counts.

Okay, that's hardly a victory at all. The court got her paperwork/charges, and didn't dismiss them outright as BS. That's it....
mrbill, you are exactly right. The "allegations" were docketed, which is something procedural that happens to anything not filed on used toilet paper by a seven-foot albino wearing a pink bunny suit. But, then, you would be surprised how unsophisticated and easily misled Americans are concerning the system of jurisprudence under which they live.

Or anything else, for that matter.
posted by Adam Greenfield at 3:11 PM on December 6, 2004


Stanislaw Lem's The Futurological Congress deals with a society that has been drugged into mass hallucination, creating a scenario similar to the Matrix, though rather than going for a dreary pretentiousness, Lem's story is actually funny. I waited to see Lem's name somewhere in the credits, so striking were the similarities (though the protagonist unearthed a second layer of reality in Lem's slim book, which added an extra kick).
posted by QuietDesperation at 3:15 PM on December 6, 2004


the Wachowskis never said that this story is anything but a retread--but from a different source. They pitched this movie to its producer as a live-action remake of Ghost in the Shell, a very famous anime movie

So..did Ghost in the Shell also rip this woman off? Methinks..unlikely.
posted by mcstayinskool at 3:15 PM on December 6, 2004


Fer Chrissakes, the whole "life is a dream" idea has been around for aeons. Probably since people started dreaming (or testing "interesting" substances). Since then we have had Plato's cavern, most Catholic theology of the Middle Ages, Zen Buddhism, Calderón de la Barca's "Life is a Dream", Shakespeare's "Midsummernight's Dream", Descartes' First Meditation, Alice in Wonderland, Little Nemo, Star Trek's holodeck and what else.
Gee, even as an eight-year-old, after first learning about flight simulators, *I* went into a total paranoid trip wondering whether I might be living in a "life simulator". So, should I claim to be the creator of not only of "The Matrix", but also the whole Virtual Reality industry?
What made "The Matrix" (the first film, not the two crap sequels) interesting is that the Wachowskis had a wealth of sources to rip off. There's hardly a single scene without a learned reference, tribute or blatant steal, making it the perfect postmodern movie!
posted by Skeptic at 3:25 PM on December 6, 2004


Oh, and QD, full marks for the Lem reference. And Lem also wrote Solaris, another obvious source for the Wachowskis.
macstay: Ghost In the Shell, yup, another clear "inspiration". They even stole the "matrix screen" from there...
posted by Skeptic at 3:31 PM on December 6, 2004


Stupid question, but has anyone found any links to the actual text of the short story in question? You'd think that would be the first thing she would want to show people if they were really that similar...
posted by mccaffry at 3:35 PM on December 6, 2004


Skeptic: well said, on all counts.

We should probably throw this one in there as well...one of my favorite books.

None of this should be interpreted as a dis' of The Matrix (again, the original, not the crapquels). Beautifully synthesizing the work of others can still be art, and in itself a new and original work for its vision, and they did it wonderfully. The movie is a joy to watch for its clear reverance of past work, as well as fantastic cinematography.

crapquel... can I take credit for coining that term right now?
posted by mcstayinskool at 3:39 PM on December 6, 2004


Even though many of the general themes and concepts contained in the Matrix movies have been around forever, that doesn't necessarliy have anything to do with whether or not they ripped off this lady's work. Apparently she can prove that they had acccess to her pre-existing work, and that right there is half the battle. Next you have to look at the specific similarities, and judge the merits of her compaint based on that. Not having read her original manuscript, I'm not going to jump to conclusions as to whether she was ripped off or not. But it does seem possible from the info presented here. I'd like to see how this story plays out.

Makes you wonder though: if the W's did knowingly rip her off, and actually did take steps to cover it up, as alleged, why did they even bother? At the time, nobody knew the Matrix was going to be such a huge success, and they probably could have just bought the rights to her work outright, right from the start, for hardly anything. Oh well.....
posted by spilon at 3:41 PM on December 6, 2004


I'd sure like to see her sue Baudrillard, though.
[queenhaters] That would really make me laugh. [/queenhaters]
posted by Adam Greenfield at 3:43 PM on December 6, 2004


She's also claiming that the Warchowskis re-released the original Matrix, with bits edited out, when they realised that they were in danger of being sued by her:

"When Sophia saw the movie back in '99, she witnessed blatant theft and plagiarizm from her script, 'The Third Eye' written and copywritten back in 1983. Soon after, she contacted the Pirates informing them she was aware of the theft and a demand for credit and compensation for what soon became the most successfull movie franchise to date. Not too long after, Warner Bros. allegedly began released versionz of The Matrix edited from the 2 hour and 40 minute original.

Sophia's aggressively on the hunt for that original copy. She, as well as I, am positive that version is out there somewhere. Some Matrix fan got a bootleg copy from a street vendor somewhere!"

OK, so one of the most widely-dissected movies of recent years exists in two versions, and she's the only one who noticed? Every single Matrix-geek out there missed it?

And if you read her complaint about the "pirates" who stole from her, it's full of spelling and grammatical errors - not to mention that she seems to think that the definition of 'third world' is 'anywhere outside the USA'.

I also liked the history section of the guy in the Sued link: "Throughout 1998 I kept promoting my script to no avail and I delved into other endeavors on my website, including conspiracy theories,"

Conspiracy theories, huh? Who ever would have thought....not to mention that the guy is complaining about copyright violation, when he wrote a script using someone else's characters and themes, without their permission....
posted by Infinite Jest at 3:49 PM on December 6, 2004


Skeptic: and Dan Galouye's Counterfeit World aka Simulacron-3, filmed as Welt am Draht long before the Matrix, and remade after as The 13th Floor.
posted by raygirvan at 3:49 PM on December 6, 2004


To expand on what I said earlier and what spillon said: Here's a hypothetical: Say I read an open solicitation for sci-fi work from the Wachowskis and I respond with a story I wrote called The Turd Eye. It's about a young software engineer named Neon who does hack work in his off time. His real obsession is with a mythical hacker named Orpheus who he feels destined to meet. He eventually meets Orpheus who offers him a green pill or a red pill. Neon chooses the green pill and is shown the real world where humans are used as batteries producing energy for the survival of artificially intelligent robots of our own creation that had taken over the world centuries before. The Wachowskis decline to option my script. Two years later, Matrix comes out. Do I have a case? I think so.

I'm not saying this is the case, just that if it were, there is legal merit for the claim of infringement.
posted by effwerd at 3:54 PM on December 6, 2004


When I read this article this morning, I smelt bullshit, and it occurred to me when I was walking to work that it just smacks of someone off their meds. I sincerely doubt she sent the script to the Wachowskis in 1981, when they were 14 and 16 year old kids. Plus the fact no news sources other than the SLCC Globe are actually carrying this just screams "cobblers".
posted by John Shaft at 3:56 PM on December 6, 2004


Apropos of nothing:

It is like discussing E.T, and constantly referring to the director being Jewish. What does that have to do with anything?

Plenty, actually, since ET can be read as a Jesus allegory (which, of course, Spielberg denies as intentional, and he's probably right).
posted by John Shaft at 4:02 PM on December 6, 2004


She should sue Buddha while she's at it.
posted by digaman at 4:26 PM on December 6, 2004


...it just smacks of someone off their meds.

Did you listen to the interview?

Fnords are mentioned within the first minute. She thinks in terms of geometry. Star Wars is about Satan. Her story is about The Revelation and the Second Coming. Jesus will return, and he will be against technology. She wrote the script by interacting with the trans-consciousness, just like Nostradamus. Her work was the same as George Lucas', except hers was from the point of view of Christ, while Lucas' was from the point of view of Satan. She has a weird Star Wars/Revelation obsession going on. The money from her ideas will be endless, because it is the Sacred Message of God. She doesn't read, because everything she needs comes from the universal source: everything that was ever written is in Revelation. Sacred numbers and vibrations are mentioned. After The Matrix was released, it was constantly recut and reedited, but she's the only person who noticed, and she knows that a bootleg of the original version is out there somewhere...

I'm not saying that she's a crackpot, but if she were a crackpot, these are the things she would say.
posted by mr_roboto at 4:33 PM on December 6, 2004


Can't be bothered reading all the comments, so feel free to skip this one.

The Matrix's plot is HUGELY derivative. You could toss dozens of SF novels, many films and TV series, Japanese Anime and even computer games into a big vat, stir and heat and you would get a plot like the Matrix's. What sets it apart are the special effects and action sequences.
posted by krisjohn at 4:48 PM on December 6, 2004


This page and the one following it are exerpts from her original story. The main page said these were brought in during an interview she did with this radio station.

Ummm…this is her proof?
posted by horhey at 5:02 PM on December 6, 2004


Um this sounds crackpot, but the article claims a FBI investigation...? Is this just something she conned a college paper into printing then, or ...?
posted by inksyndicate at 5:38 PM on December 6, 2004


I sincerely doubt she sent the script to the Wachowskis in 1981, when they were 14 and 16 year old kids.

John Shaft wins. I didn't even realize that. Good catch.
posted by eyeballkid at 5:39 PM on December 6, 2004


Actually I think she says she wrote the script in 1981 and sent it in 1986, making the elder Wachowski 21.
posted by inksyndicate at 5:44 PM on December 6, 2004


When Sophia saw the movie back in '99, she witnessed blatant theft and plagiarizm from her script, 'The Third Eye' written and copywritten back in 1983.

A writer, and I use that term loosely, who thinks that the past tens of "copyright" is "copywritten" (as if "right" and "write" are the same word) should not be shocked when she's unable to break into Hollywood.
posted by kindall at 5:51 PM on December 6, 2004


Wow: look at page 12 of this PDF. It's an email from Stewart to the attorneys of one of the people she's suing. This is not the product of a sound mind: she even slips some extra exclamation points into the middle of words.

And this is from a site that's trying to make Stewart look good.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:00 PM on December 6, 2004


When Philip K. Dick saw "The Man Who Fell To Earth," he was convinced that David Bowie had experienced the same vision as him but he didn't sue him.

Or at least that's what happens in "Valis."
posted by inksyndicate at 6:02 PM on December 6, 2004


re: horhey. This page and the one following it are exerpts from her original story.

Looks to me like her script would've made a more interesting movie, too bad they didn't steal it.
posted by undule at 6:10 PM on December 6, 2004


Wow: look at page 12 of this PDF

Holy cow, she's racist as hell.
posted by undule at 6:12 PM on December 6, 2004


Matrix vs. Dark City.
posted by asok at 6:51 PM on December 6, 2004




Why would you even mention that it was a black woman???
posted by Mroz at 7:26 PM on December 6, 2004


As if the *story* and the *script* were the good things about the Matrix. Why anyone would want to claim responsibility for such things, I don't know.

If I were the W. brothers, I'd pay her a few million and say, "Sorry everyone, it was her fault. But it looked pretty cool, didn't it?"
posted by straight at 7:50 PM on December 6, 2004


Why would you even mention that it was a black woman???

Because so many of her arguments (and those of her supporters) are based on her getting the short shrift 'cos she's a loony black.
posted by John Shaft at 8:39 PM on December 6, 2004


Mmmmmm, VALIS.
posted by Adam Greenfield at 8:49 PM on December 6, 2004


crapquel... can I take credit for coining that term right now?
posted by mcstayinskool at 6:39 PM EST on December 6


No. :)

But this whole thread, and the links that started it, is all very amusing. This woman seems to be living in an alternate universe of her own. It all just backs up Robert Anton Wilson's great screenplay title, "Reality Is What You Can Get Away With."

And no one's mentioned how much "Strange Days"** is a "rip off" of William Gibson, et al...

** Dude, paranoia time: when I searched the IMDB for "Strange Days," a banner ad for the Ultimate Matrix Boxed Set was stretched over the top of the entry page. The Wachowskis are the Architects!
posted by Al_Truist at 8:54 PM on December 6, 2004


Hans Moravec paints an interesting scenario, ZenMasterThis. This argument is awfully convincing, too.
posted by Paddle to Sea at 9:33 PM on December 6, 2004


I platonically <3 geoff
posted by PurplePorpoise at 9:38 PM on December 6, 2004


I recall sitting in a first year philosophy class in which the professor was discussing Descartes' "brain in a vat." One student voiced what (apparently) many in the class were thinking: "It is just like The Matrix!"

The point is, I am in agreement with many others-- count me in for the "it is just a theme/idea/philosophy/et cetera" that has been done many times before vote.
posted by synecdoche at 10:29 PM on December 6, 2004


this is all a simulation. you are all here for my amusment.
posted by sharpener at 1:35 AM on December 7, 2004


Please, people. René Descartes did not invent the Brain in a Vat thought experiment. That was Hilary Putnam, nearly four hundred years later.

(Note: Hilary and René are both male)
posted by painquale at 1:36 AM on December 7, 2004


afx114 wrote: This reminds me of a college film professor I once had who, durring the Pulp Fiction craze, blasted the hell out of it for ripping off all its ideas from old movies. While that may have been true, he came across as a pompous pretentious stereotypical pissed-off French dude.

i took Jean-Pierre's A Hard Look At the Movies this spring and he's still delivering the same angry speech, except now it's about the Kill Bill series. i think he basically invented that stereotype -- or at the very least he's redefining its boundaries -- so i was more than happy to allow him his histrionics. although i don't necessarily agree that movies like Tarantino's or the Matrix are bad simply because they're derivative, i quite agree with Gorin that the best films from an artistic perspective are the ones that are "of a time, of a place, of a people" which is to say, the ones that are created from the realm of the artist's personal experience.

to recap, the Matrix is complete shit and if you don't understand that then you never will, hopeless idiot.

/jp
posted by radiosig at 5:05 AM on December 7, 2004


mroz -

Read the introduction to this PDF. As I stated before, I didn't introduce the issue of race into this individual's claims - I questioned whether it changed anything.

http://www.daghettotymz.com/matrix/Summary3.pdf

I gotta admit, she does appear to be stone crazy.
posted by nanojath at 10:51 AM on December 7, 2004



It is like discussing E.T, and constantly referring to the director being Jewish. What does that have to do with anything?


Spielburg is Jewish?

And this is from a site that's trying to make Stewart look good. - mr_roboto

Holy mother of god, this woman is seriously unhinged.
posted by dejah420 at 11:21 AM on December 7, 2004


Hans Moravec paints bright smears with his own feces. Please. I mean, if anyone's unhinged...
posted by Adam Greenfield at 12:30 PM on December 7, 2004


OMG!! - Stop typing, everyone! RIGHT NOW!!!
If Charlie Kaufman sees this page and steals these ideas, how is everybody here going to split the profit$?

A docu-drama about a mentally ill scribe wandering through a bizarrre, hallucinogenic world of their own imaginings - let's call it 'The Fisher King', and get Robin Williams to star, or imagine that we've entered John Malkovitch's head, and start wandering around, or find a rabbit-hole somewhere, or... or.... uhhh...
posted by vhsiv at 8:15 PM on January 2, 2005


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