Redditor capt_wink_martindale was a film student in 2001 when he started work on an adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s 1941 short story, “Reason,” which was later compiled into the 1950 collection, “I, Robot.” After receiving permission to adapt the story from Asimov’s estate, he moved forward on the project. Of course, Twentieth Century Fox also had plans for (roughly) the same material and, somehow, caught wind of the student film.
Instead of the letter recognizing our valiant efforts as students that I expected, I found myself on the tail end of a phone call that changed my life. I was contacted directly by the lead of the studio’s legal team, who explained my situation to me very clearly. He told me that I was technically in my legal right to use Isaac Asimov’s material. However, if I chose to proceed, they would file multiple lawsuits totaling over 2 million dollars against me. In the end, I might win, but it would take hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees just to fight it, but would cost them nothing more than the salaries they already pay their lawyers. It would be 10 years before any type of verdict could be levied, and by then it wouldn’t matter what the outcome was, since their film would be long since released.
Movie studios seem to throw their legal weight around for sport. It’s impossible that this little film could have been a threat to Fox’s multi-million dollar sci-fi endeavor. They had Will Smith, the biggest star in the world, in the lead role. If some kid’s school project really was a threat, than they have bigger problems than friendly competition.
Stories like this one, which are a dime a dozen, prove that we need to rethink Intellectual Property law in this country, not bolster it with more severe legislation. It makes perfect sense that the richest companies would be able to make more polished films and squash the competition at the theaters; game on. But how is it fair that the fattest checkbook can suppress artistic expression? This is legalized extortion. Congress should take note.