It came out this week that Hugo Award winning author Harlan Ellison has filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court in Los Angeles for copy infringement against New Regency, the production company behind the Justin Timberlake movie ‘In Time’.
In the filing, Ellison alleges that the movie substantially borrows from his award winning 1965 short story ‘Repent, Harlequin!’. The similarities include the premise of a “dystopian corporate future in which everyone is allotted a specific amount of time to live”, the presence of government authority figures who track the amount of time each citizen has figures (in the book they are called “Master Timekeepers” and in the movie they’re called “Senior Timekeepers”), the way a person’s lifespan can be reduced for misdeeds and how those who run out of time meet their end by the stoppage of their heart. Both also feature a hero who rebels against the system and is chased by the Timekeeper and his staff. Ellison is not the only one who sees the similarities between ‘Repent, Harlequin!’ and the movie. The suit also quotes movie critic Richard Roeper’s review of ‘In Time’ when he wrote that the film “is based on the short story by the great Harlan Ellison.” You can read the entire filing here.
Ellison is upset with New Regency not only because he feels that they based their movie on his work without notifying him or giving him screen credit but also because he has been himself trying to set up a deal on his own to make ‘Repent, Harlequin!’ into a movie. He alreadyt had a third party write an adaptation of his short story and was preparing to pitch it to movie studios. He feels that the release of ‘In Time’ would jeopardize his chances of getting a movie made.
Ellison has a reputation for winning his lawsuits. In one of his last high profile wins, he lodged a claim stating that James Cameron’s screenplay for ‘The Terminator’ was highly parallel to an episode he wrote for ‘The Outer Limits’. The court ruled in his favor and he ended up with an acknowledgement credit and an undisclosed payment, much to Cameron’s disdain.
This time, Ellison and his lawyers are asking the court to block the October 28 ‘In Time’ release date and to have all copies of the movie destroyed. Whether that will happen or if a settlement involving screen credit and a payoff will be involved, we’ll just have to wait and see. But with Ellison’s track record, the documented similarities between the works, and the approaching date of the movie release, it looks like New Regency’s lawyers will be working overtime on this one.