Harlan Ellison Sues In Time Filmmakers

Time certainly is money. Legendary science fiction author Harlan Ellison is suing director Andrew Niccol and the makers of forthcoming Fox-distributed film In Time starring Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried and Cillian Murphy, for copyright infringement.

He alleges that the film steals elements from his 1965 short story Repent, Harlequin! Said The Ticktockman which just like the film features a society where time is allotted as currency and where a rebel goes against a government authority known as the Timekeeper.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, “The complaint goes on to list similarities in the features of the universe as well as the plot surfaces — 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.”

Producers have been interested in adapating Repent, Harlequin! for years but it was only in 2010 that Ellison gave his permission for a screenplay to be developed. Now he’s claiming that In Time jeopardises a potential official version of his work.

Suing in this kind of case is a tricky one as copyright law protects expression and not ideas and Ellison has not outlined specfic complaints like dialogue theft. He might have trouble making the charges stick unless he amends his grievance.

On the other hand, Repent, Harlequin! is a widely known work which won both a Hugo and a Nebula award, so Ellison won’t have any problem pointing out exactly how producers managed to get access to his ideas.

Ellison has sued before over idea theft notably against James Cameron, when he claimed that the screenplay of Terminator owed much to two episodes of the Outer Limits that Ellison had penned – Soldier and Demon With A Glass Hand. The case was eventually settled out of court for an undisclosed sum and current prints of Terminator now acknowledge Ellison even though Cameron disagreed with the settlement and called him a “parasite who can kiss my ass”.

Ellison is demanding that the planned October 28th release of In Time be halted and all copies destroyed. It seems unlikely that that’ll happen but the case is ongoing…