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Harlan Ellison Sues For "Star Trek" Episode 483

Posted by kdawson
from the dangerous-visions dept.
Miracle Jones writes "The ever-quotable speculative fiction writer Harlan Ellison has launched a lawsuit against Paramount and the Writer's Guild West for rights to residuals surrounding his famous and award winning 'City on the Edge of Forever' episode for the original Star Trek series. Ellison, recently featured in the documentary 'Dreams with Sharp Teeth,' said that 'The Trek fans who know my City screenplay understand just exactly why I'm bare-fangs-of-Adamantium about this.' Regarding his lawsuit, he had this to say: 'The arrogance, the pompous dismissive imperial manner of those who "have more important things to worry about," who'll have their assistant get back to you, who don't actually read or create, who merely "take" meetings, and shuffle papers — much of which is paper money denied to those who actually did the manual labor of creating those dreams — they refuse even to notice... until you jam a Federal lawsuit in their eye. To hell with all that obfuscation and phony flag-waving: they got my money. Pay me and pay off all the other writers from whom you've made hundreds of thousands of millions of dollars... from OUR labors... just so you can float your fat asses in warm Bahamian waters.'"
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Harlan Ellison Sues For "Star Trek" Episode

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  • Oh Slashdot (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @07:34PM (#27234741)

    This is not YRO. This did not happen online. The summary is so bad that I'm not even sure that this is about his rights.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @07:36PM (#27234763)

    Get over it. Your copyright should have expired anyway by any sort of good definition of limited term.

  • Yup (Score:3, Insightful)

    by WiiVault (1039946) on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @07:43PM (#27234875)
    This is a perfect illustration of the problems facing content creators (artists). Because of the "industry groups" (read: cartels) all being in cahoots, creative types are forced to work under their unfair practices. Things like not paying performers for online distribution because it is "promotional" could not happen in any other climate. Sadly the entertainment industry is so involved in the US economy and politics that right now the only thing artists can do is suck it up and hope that things someday change. The more people like this guy who come forward and shine light on these tactics the better.
  • Re:On one hand... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by roc97007 (608802) on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @07:49PM (#27234953) Journal

    > On one hand, we have the tired old story of a writer/creative not receiving due credit for his work. On the other hand, said creative is possibly the most obnoxious asshole still living that I've known of.

    Yes, but he is a very eloquent asshole and his rants are high entertainment. Besides, being an asshole doesn't mean he's wrong.

  • by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland&yahoo,com> on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @07:51PM (#27234981) Homepage Journal

    I would rather it go out in the manner the contract said.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @07:52PM (#27234997)

    But there's money being made out there and so it should go to the original creators, not the papershuffling gladhanders.

    It's so sad how the so-called copyfighters are now reflexively anti-artist. They seem to want every artist to get nothing just to prove some weird point.

  • Re:On one hand... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Chyeld (713439) <chyeld&gmail,com> on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @08:01PM (#27235089)

    Actually, all kidding aside, yeah he is (wrong). Amusing, possibly. But wrong, definately.

    He did the work under contract. Just as the work I do under contract isn't mine, neither was his. He's pissed because back then, he agreed to such a setup (or more accurately the Writers Guild agreed, which he was a member of), but legally he's got about as much ground to stand on as someone living in New Orleans during Katrina.

    That's the beast, and it's been that way for a long long time. Artists own their work, employees don't. He chose to go the route of sure food and became an employee. Now he want's the lottery winnings of being an Artist. Someday they might make it work that way, but I doubt that day will be today, or tomorrow.

  • Ellison is one of my favorite sci fi writers but the version of the screenplay he wrote only vagely resembles the one that was used in the film, it was rewritten several times himself and by 4 others including D.C. Fontana and Roddenberry himself before it was finally filmed. As is the original script was unfilmable, it was written from a writers skew not a screenwriters one and also dismissed alot of the established character traits of the crew. He was originally upset enough by the rewrites that he threated to pull his name from the script.

    Fast forward 42 years and a Hugo and now he wants all the credit? I take it his books arent selling like they used to? Seriously Harlan maybe you need the cash or something but get over it.

  • Re:Yup (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MikeBabcock (65886) <mtb-slashdot@mikebabcock.ca> on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @08:08PM (#27235165) Homepage Journal

    What you're experiencing is being part of a younger industry than writers. Writers have been around a lot longer, and in the modern era of mass redistribution, have come up with pretty good guild rules and some good collective bargaining too.

    If programmers got together, we'd come up with some silly way to give our code away and not get paid at all instead ... oh wait, never mind.

    In all honesty, I think modern Copyright rules suck, and I think Free Software is awesome, but of course the latter is dependant on the former -- so I'm of two minds I suppose.

    That said, what you need is a better collective bargaining agreement as part of the "guild of software whozits" that gets you paid residuals from redistribution of your work. You don't have such a contract, and writers often do.

  • Re:I really... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @08:10PM (#27235213)
    Q: What would you say to a little fuck?
    A: Hello little fuck!
  • by pecosdave (536896) * on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @08:14PM (#27235249) Homepage Journal

    Look them up. Though I admit it can be murky at times, inspired by [wikipedia.org] and written by are NOT the same thing.

    Seriously, when you get down to it how many things are inspired by Biblical stories and old fairy tales?

  • Re:Yup (Score:4, Insightful)

    by RobotRunAmok (595286) on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @08:24PM (#27235365)

    What other industry do you get paid over and over again for work you have already done?

    What industry do you get paid vacations? Yours? What industry can you show up for work, surf the web, and be otherwise unproductive for two-three hours so long as you steer clear of the PHB? Yours? What industry do you get -- I love this one! -- "sick days," where you can make a phonecall to some suit and then stay home under the covers and still be paid the same amount of money that week as if you had had 40 productive hours? Yours?

    Or you can try being a writer. Sure they get residuals, money for something they've written a while back. Does that make up for not being paid for the sick days, Christmases, vacations, overtimes, whatever other downright wacky (when you think about it) conventions of the modern workplace in which they do not share? Maybe, maybe not. But the writers knew what they were getting into when they started their careers, same as the corporate clock-watchers. Seems a bit wrong to change the rules somehow...

  • Re:wow (Score:2, Insightful)

    by AKAImBatman (238306) * <akaimbatman@gmail.cFREEBSDom minus bsd> on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @08:31PM (#27235433) Homepage Journal

    See, if Ellison had simply said that, we'd all nod our heads in agreement. Instead, he went off into an incomprehensible rant about fighting 'the man'. (At least, I think that's what it was about. Hard to tell through the foggy and indignant prose.)

  • Re:On one hand... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TrekkieGod (627867) on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @08:34PM (#27235471) Homepage Journal

    Yeah, it was so horrible that "Harlan Ellison's original version won a Writers Guild of America Award for best dramatic hour-long script."

    I don't know about you, but I don't let the WGA or anyone else decide for me which scripts I like or dislike. Did you read it, or are just look it up to see if it had won any awards?

    I don't understand why such misinformed crap gets modded up.

    Other than our disagreement about the quality of the original script, which is purely a matter of opinion, was anything factually incorrect my post? He's trying to get residuals for a script that has little resemblance to what he actually wrote, and for which he actually considered disowning because he disliked it so much. He does that, I assume, because the TV show which he dislikes, earned a lot more money than the book he published with the version he did like.

  • Re:wow (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Golddess (1361003) on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @08:52PM (#27235677)
    Y'know, instead of saying how dumb the mods are for not understanding Jeremiah's post, why not instead tell people why such a post isn't a troll? I know I for one would be grateful to anyone who could clue me in.
  • Re:Harlen (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tenton (181778) on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @08:53PM (#27235689)

    This is why you don't take $$$ from the profits. You take them from gross revenue. Accounting can make all the profits vanish into thin air. Of course, this was done to deprive people with % of profits clauses in their contracts. Every solution that comes up, the studios will always try to find ways to minimize those numbers, to keep all the money to themselves.

  • Re:Oh Slashdot (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dAzED1 (33635) <brianlamere@ya[ ].com ['hoo' in gap]> on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @09:01PM (#27235787) Homepage Journal

    is there a non-online version of this forum that things are discussed on, then? Because your online rights (your rights while online, your rights online, etc) makes sense. Adding the completely pointless "discussed online" bit makes no sense; of course it's discussed online. Is there a "ask slashdot, online" option too? How about "hardware, discussed online?" "Science, discussed online?" No?

    Oh, well then, let's go with the option that actually makes sense.

  • by hyades1 (1149581) <hyades1@hotmail.com> on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @09:07PM (#27235831)

    Talk to Walt Disney. They still have copyright protection and licensing rights for that fucking mouse, and it's about a hundred years old.

  • Re:wow (Score:3, Insightful)

    by SpectreHiro (961765) on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @09:14PM (#27235909) Homepage

    Note to first-time viewers: the various characters in TOS (i.e., The Original Series) were conveniently color-coded for longevity: those wearing tight-fitting red outfits generally didn't make it out of any given episode alive.

    Oh my god! They killed Scotty?! YOU BASTARDS!

  • Re:wow (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MightyMartian (840721) on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @09:17PM (#27235927) Journal

    Ellison is to SF what Stallman is to open source.

    'Nuff said.

  • by westlake (615356) on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @09:24PM (#27236003)
    Get over it. Your copyright should have expired anyway by any sort of good definition of limited term.

    The lawsuit is based on the master Writer's Guild contract in effect in 1967.

    The contract defined who was entitled to be credited as a writer. It defined the writer's share in derivative works and merchandising.

    It doesn't matter who owns the copyright on the script as broadcast.

    The geek is abysmally naive about copyrights.

    He forgets who owns the master prints. The trademarks that protect logos, character designs and props.

    He forgets that Disney or Paramount has a corporate line of credit. Production facilities. Talent. Marketing and Distribution.

    The screenwriter - the pro - never - forgets that without a strong union - without out a strong contract - the studios will find ways to profit from his work for all eternity.

    The Last Dangerous Visions, the third volume of the anthology series, has become something of a legend in science fiction as the genre's most famous unpublished book. It was originally announced for publication in 1973, but other work demanded Ellison's attention and the anthology has not seen print to date. He has come under criticism for his treatment of some writers who submitted their stories to him, of which some estimate to be nearly 150 (many of the authors have died in the subsequent three-and-a-half decades since the anthology was first announced). Harlan Ellison [wikipedia.org]

  • Re:wow (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @09:27PM (#27236025)

    You'd "all" nod your heads in agreement? What about the "general Slashdot wisdom [sic]" that there should be no intellectual property rights?

  • by gmhowell (26755) * <gmhowell@gmail.com> on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @09:50PM (#27236221) Homepage Journal

    Seriously, I'm finding it hard to think of a more overrated Star Trek episode than this one. Utterly lame. Definite third season material.

  • Re:wow (Score:3, Insightful)

    by that this is not und (1026860) on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @10:06PM (#27236329)

    It's a short story, not a book. Ellison is a master of the short story. He's written some longer fiction, but his genius is in the format of the short story.

  • Re:wow (Score:4, Insightful)

    by turbidostato (878842) on Tuesday March 17, 2009 @10:31PM (#27236491)

    "You'd "all" nod your heads in agreement? What about the "general Slashdot wisdom [sic]" that there should be no intellectual property rights?"

    I am one of those "no intellectual property rights" and I find no contradiction. This is not a case of property rigths. There was a *contract* between parts able to negotiate (Harlan and Paramount; not one of those take-it-or-leave-it CLUFs and the like) that stated that if Paramount did X, Harlan would recieve Y. Once the conditions got agreed, Harlan went to work and now Paramount must comply on his side.

    In fact, that's the very way we, the "no intellectual property rights", propose to all those "but think of the artists!": instead of producing first, then forcing your terms on everybody once your never asked for work is made public, find some part to agree to some conditions, sign a contract, then start your job.

  • Re:neat! (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Phil06 (877749) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @12:05AM (#27237087)
    The Law does not deal in trifles.
  • Re:wow (Score:3, Insightful)

    by infonography (566403) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @01:57AM (#27237685) Homepage

    Thats technically

    REPRINT Harlanquin!" Said the FatCat man.

    and yes I did get the twisted spelling joke.

    On the whole I do regret heckling him back in the 70's at those Trekkie cons now. But it's not a bit surprising that writers for pop media got the same screwing that performers got from the record companies. On the whole the franchise dove ass first into the mud when Gene died and hasn't even looked up let alone make a good bit of work since then.

  • Re:wow (Score:5, Insightful)

    by julesh (229690) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @02:57AM (#27237971)

    What about the "general Slashdot wisdom [sic]" that there should be no intellectual property rights?"

    I think the "limited IP rights" crowd outnumbers the "no IP rights" crowd by about 20-1. I'm all for a reduction of IP rights. I think 50 years from date of first publication is an adequate term for copyrights, and would support a scheme whereby they have to be renewed in order to stand after the first 25 years. I think patents should be limited in scope to the truly innovative; anything that can be described as simply an incremental improvement over a preexisting idea (e.g., doing this thing that could be done before, but with a computer!) should be ruled out totally. Trademarks should only apply to people attempting to compete directly with the holder. But I defintely support IP rights, and I think most other people here on /. would agree with most of the statements I just made.

    In fact, that's the very way we, the "no intellectual property rights", propose to all those "but think of the artists!": instead of producing first, then forcing your terms on everybody once your never asked for work is made public, find some part to agree to some conditions, sign a contract, then start your job.

    We've tried this system; that's how art was funded prior to the invention of copyright in, what, the 18th century? The problem with this system is that it encourages funding of a few big name artists while everyone else struggles to get noticed. The resulting body of artwork lacks diversity and tends not to challenge the status quo for fear of offending the people holding the purse strings.

  • Re:wow (Score:5, Insightful)

    by julesh (229690) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @03:01AM (#27237985)

    HE, by contrast, has had no real impact on anything, beyond pissing a lot of people off.

    While I'm not personally a fan and find it trite and overdone, there's a general consensus of those in the know about such things that Dangerous Visions really did push the boundary of what was acceptable to publish a long way forward, and started a new trend in SF that is still having impact today. The fact that as a modern reader looking back we see nothing remarkable about it is, I'm told, a testament to just how much influence it had: nothing before was like it, but everything since has been.

  • by jeko (179919) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @03:54AM (#27238217)

    If anything, good writers are even more rare than good actors. I have yet to meet the fiction writer who can fall back on their looks.

    The problem is a fundamental disconnect. Good dialogue makes the actor look good. Good structure makes the director look brilliant. A script that stinks just makes the movie overall look bad, but generally no one blames the actors. In the end -- and yeah, this is oversimplification -- writers get none of their due and all of the blame.

    Studio executives -- who famously refer to screenwriters as the "highest paid secretaries on Earth" -- honestly believe successful movies are the result of their business acumen. They take arrogant cluelessness to a level Marie Antoinette would have boggled at. Witness the latest SciFi/Syfy debacle.

    Everyone wants to sleep with the actors, and the studio execs understand lust. Directors are the boss, and studio execs understand the boss needs to get paid. But frat boys turned studio nepotists almost intentionally refuse to understand the value of the script. They honestly believe Tricia Helfer's breasts do more for "Battlestar Galactica" than Ron Moore's scripts.

    Even worse, every single one of those MBAs have delusions of Hammett -- or Snoopy at least -- and they all believe they could write the next Great American novel, if they just weren't so darn busy all the time, or could condescend to the menial labor of typing. Every Armani-clad jackass walking down Wilshire fancies himself a warrior-poet, strong yet sensitive, tortured and misunderstood.

    Hell, even Saddam Hussein self-published a novel in which he saved the maiden of Iraq from the ravages of America, and his prose was even worse than this line. I guess it's easy to find success when you can have the critics tortured and beheaded.

    It's hard to charge premium prices if your small, dedicated market doesn't perceive the value of your product, and even worse, are all convinced they could do better than Twain and Shakespeare's bastard love child if they just took the time.

  • Re:wow (Score:5, Insightful)

    by remmelt (837671) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @05:25AM (#27238603) Homepage

    We've tried this system; that's how art was funded prior to the invention of copyright in, what, the 18th century? The problem with this system is that it encourages funding of a few big name artists while everyone else struggles to get noticed. The resulting body of artwork lacks diversity and tends not to challenge the status quo for fear of offending the people holding the purse strings.

    Did you just describe the current situation or the 18th century? I couldn't tell.

  • Bollocks (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @07:20AM (#27239069)

    Harlan would have gotten paid for his work. The contract would have said so. And if he didn't want to lose his idea to the public domain for that amount, he could refuse to write. After all, 50 years after he's dead, he's STILL lost his idea to any "shark" who wants a slice. So he's obviously not THAT worried about it.

    But Paramount have a monopoly on the books and so the price of the books are what the MONOPOLY will allow them to ask for. Not what the FREE MARKET will bear.

    And one reason why Paramount have that monopoly is because Harlan has copyright. A right that Paramount are making money off without payment which is not allowed either by contract law or copyright law.

    Now if Paramount believe in copyrights they should pay Harlan for the monopoly rights he has.

    If Paramount don't believe they have to pay Harlan, they don't believe in copyrights.

    Since this is one single legal entity, THERE is your hypocrisy. Slashdot is not a single entity. No hypocrisy.

  • Re:wow (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Hognoxious (631665) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @08:12AM (#27239371) Homepage Journal

    What about the "general Slashdot wisdom [sic]" that there should be no intellectual property rights?

    That rule only applies to Micro$oft, Metallica, and J.K. Rowling.

  • Re:wow (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mcgrew (92797) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @10:16AM (#27240797) Homepage Journal

    Maybe I'm in the minority here, but I don't believe that anyone should own a story or a song, but I do believe that they should have a limited time monopoly on their work.

    I'm not against copyrights, but I am against insane copyright lengths and other abuses that my government has committed for campaign money. If copyrights were only 20 years like patents are, and if the DMCA said that any work that has DRM loses copyright rather than you're a criminal for breaking a lock on something you bought and paid for, I think there would be far fewer people calling for copyright's abolishment.

    Everything over 20 years old should be in the public domain, including my own works.

  • Re:wow (Score:3, Insightful)

    by fm6 (162816) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @11:47AM (#27242399) Homepage Journal

    Consensus and truth are two separate things. In 1967, everybody and his mother was doing stuff that "pushed the boundaries". Some of it had lasting value (civil rights movement, women getting all uppity, an end to the "my country right or wrong" mentality). But a lot of it was pure crap. I judge stuff that came out of the 60s by its lasting value, not by how it shocked Goldwater Republicans.

In 1869 the waffle iron was invented for people who had wrinkled waffles.

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