One of this summer’s worldwide hits was the Matt Damon-starring science fiction film Elysium. But several months after its release, director Neill Blomkamp’s movie, which tells the story of a poor man who attempts to save his life by making an illegal trip to a satellite planet surrounding a ruined Earth, has found itself at the center of controversy.
Blomkamp was recently sued by little-known screenwriter Steve Wilson Briggs for copyright infringement claiming similarities between Elysium and his screenplay Butterfly Diver. The suit, filed in the Northern District of California, alleges that the film infringes on Butterfly Diver’s plot, characters, unusual settings, themes, conflict, and climax-twist. It further alleges that Blomkamp had access to the story and attempted to disguise the infringement.
According to the suit, Briggs finished the first draft of his screenplay in 2005 and registered a revised version with the Writers Guild of America later that year. Two years later he posted the entire script on TriggerStreet.com, a screenwriting website. Briggs claims that Blomkanp was able to gain access to key story elements of the script via the public website. In fact, Briggs maintains that he was contacted by an anonymous film director, now alleged to be Blomkamp, about the script while it was posted on the website.
Briggs maintains that he first became aware of Elysium when he saw a preview of the film in a movie theater in May 2013. In June of that year, Briggs filed his registered his script with the U.S. Copyright Office in order to file his complaint. In his complaint, Briggs argues that the infringement on his story is so extensive that when the “infringed content is extracted from Elysium there is no story left to market — all that remains are robots, two exoskeletons, some high-tech guns … all of which are … added to disguise infringement.” In addition to damages and lost profits, Briggs is asking for the court to destroy all copies of the film including any derivative soundtracks or video games.
Briggs, a high school teacher’s aide in California, has only one other writing credit to his name and is representing himself in this litigation.