Posted on Friday, September 16th, 2011 by Angie Han
Sci-fi writer Harlan Ellison is suing New Regency over Andrew Niccol‘s In Time, claiming that the film is a ripoff of his story “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman.” Ellison has a reputation for being lawsuit-happy — in the past, he’s successfully sued to get a credit on The Terminator after claiming the movie was based on episodes of Outer Limits that he had written, and has also had brushes with AOL and ABC. More details after the jump.
Niccol’s sci-fi thriller unfolds in a dystopian future in which people stop aging at 25, at which point they perish unless they can afford to buy more time. Justin Timberlake stars as Will Salas, who’s forced to go on the run when he’s falsely accused of murder.
By comparison, Ellison’s tale is set in a world where punctuality rules everything — tardiness and time-wasting are criminal offenses punishable by having those minutes deducted from their lives. The action centers around a figure called the Harlequin who rebels by disrupting the schedule that his society has set.
Ellison is arguing that the two works are clearly similar, as they’re both set in a “dystopian corporate future in which everyone is allotted a specific amount of time to live” and involve an authority called the “Timekeeper” who enforces the limits on people’s lives. Other overlaps that Ellison points out include “the manipulation of time an individual can live, the type of death experienced by those whose time runs out, rebellion by story protagonists, and so forth,” writes The Hollywood Reporter. (More details can be found on the actual suit, which has been published here.) Ellison further references a piece by critic Richard Roeper in which he writes that In Time “is based on a brilliant story by the great Harlan Ellison.”
The suit demands that the film’s release be stopped, and all copies of the footage destroyed. According to Ellison, In Time “degrades” the “value and marketability” of possible feature film adaptation of “Repent Harlequin!” that has been in the works since late last year.
I’ve neither seen the movie nor read the story, so I’m in no position to form an educated opinion on the case. Based on what I’ve read so far, though, I’m skeptical of Ellison’s case. The two works definitely have a few things in common, but it’s a big leap from “sorta similar” to “blatant ripoff.” None of the ideas he accuses In Time of ripping off sound so unique they could’ve only come from Ellison. (“Protagonist rebels against the system in the hopes of destroying it” is the basis of, what, 80% of sci-fi thrillers out there?) In order to win his case, Ellison will have to prove that In Time has substantial similarities to “Repent Harlequin!” Since copyright law covers “expression and not ideas,” he’ll have to get a lot more specific.
Discuss: Have you read “Repent Harlequin”? Do you think Ellison has a point?
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