BBC America’s critically acclaimed drama Orphan Black is full of twists and turns and surprises, but here’s one you might not have been expecting, the whole thing is stolen. That, at least, is the claim being made by a writer who alleges that the clone-centric sci-fi series swiped the concept from his own work. He’s plenty pissed off about it, and is now after a cool $5 million in damages.
According the lawsuit filed by Stephen Hendricks in California federal court, BBC and Temple Street Production, who produce the series, straight up jacked his intellectual property. On March 4, 2013, he claims that he found out that Orphan Black, then in its infancy, contains “the same, unusual core copyrightable expression as the Screenplay; i.e. the clandestine development of clones and the resulting journey of the protagonist to discover her origins.” The screenplay in question is called Double Double, which sounds like the title of a kid’s movie about witches, that Hendricks claims he wrote in the 1990s, and that has been registered with both the Writer’s Guild of America and the Copyright Office.
It happens occasionally that two people have a similar idea at roughly the same time. After all, The Raid: Redemption and Dredd have similar plots, as do The Hunger Games and Battle Royale, and tons of other movies we could compare. Where the plot thickens, however, is in 2004 Hendricks says he was told by a Temple Street assistant to send them a summary of his project, which he did, including a copy of the full screenplay. A few weeks went by, and the Temple Street, and co-president David Fortier—who is an executive producer on Orphan Black—informed him that they were going to pass on his script.
Fast-forward to a few years later and Graeme Manson and John Fawcett are getting credit for something Hendricks believes he created. The lawsuit states that, “The similarities between the Series and the Screenplay are so substantial that it is a virtual statistical impossibility that the former could have been created independently from the latter.” Among the parallels Hendricks names, the list includes the age and attractiveness of the lead, a young woman who seeks to discover herself and where she comes from; the birth certificate plays into her discovery in both versions; as do clones.
While you can definitely see the resemblances, and you have to feel bad for the dude if he actually did get ripped off, there is nothing here that just screams obvious theft. A young attractive 20-something female lead is hardly a rarity, there are a ton of movies that involve clones, and if a character is looking into their own past, a birth certificate is a good place to start.
The Temple Street connection sounds the most dubious, though it is possible that they were in the market for something with clones and were waiting for something different. Then again, this is Hollywood, so it wouldn’t surprise any of us if a studio, network, or producer saw a script, liked it, didn’t want to pay money for it, and co-opted it for his own gains. My basic point is who the hell knows what is going on, but if they did in fact steal from this guy, good luck to him. That is some serious bullshit, and, unfortunately, it’s also damn hard to prove.
Over the weekend Orphan Black debuted season two on BBC America, where the show airs on Saturday nights.