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While it's usually James Cameron's Avatar that is forced to regularly try and shut down lawsuits claiming theft of intellectual property, today it's another recently-released sci-fi epic that is being thrown into the court system. The Wrap is reporting that a screenwriter named Steve Wilson Briggs has brought a lawsuit against Sony Pictures, TriStar pictures, Media Rights Capital, QED International and writer/director Neill Blomkamp, claiming that they all worked together to steal his idea for the Matt Damon-starring action movie Elysium.
According to the claim, Briggs wrote a screenplay called Butterfly Driver back in May 2005 and he claims that Blomkamp and the studios stole elements from his idea, including the "plot, characters, unusual settings, themes, conflict, catalyst, crisis, climax-twist, the hero’s unique 'character-affiliation,' the hero’s 'keepsake necklace' and more." The plaintiff claims that he registered a revised version of his script with the WGA-West in December of 2005, and then about two years later in February 2007 he posted it in its entirety to the screenwriting website TriggerStreet.com. It was on this site that the writer claims Blomkamp had access to his material. Briggs brought his script to the U.S. Copyright Office in June of this year to prepare his claim.
In their write-up of the story The Wrap notes that, "There are indeed a number of similarities between the two scripts, as alleged in the lawsuit, though these types of claims are commonplace in Hollywood, particularly with regard to blockbuster studio movies." Blomkamp's film is set in a future where the middle and lower classes are forced to live on a dying Earth while all those in the upper class live on a state-of-the-art space station that has completely eliminated all disease. Damon stars as a mechanic who is poisoned and left with only days to live, giving him no other option than to try and fly to the space station and cure himself.
What differentiates this case from many others like it is that Elysium was really only a modest success at the box office - unlike Avatar, which, of course, is the highest grossing movie of all time. Made for $115 million, the movie managed to bank only $92 million when it was released back in August, but made up for that total by pulling in $184 million internationally (bringing the final total to about $272 million). There is no mention of how much Briggs is asking for in his lawsuit against the studios and the filmmaker, but you can probably expect that he wants a good chunk of that money.
Briggs, who is a teacher's aide at Sequoia High School in Redwood City, California, has only one produced credit on his IMDb page: a film titled The Amazing Mr. Excellent that he co-directed, wrote, produced, assisted edit and acted in. Because the internet is a ridiculously cool tool, you can actually watch the film in its entirety below.