Harlan Ellison is a legendary figure for two reason: as a science fiction writer who has not only penned some of the greatest sci-fi stories ever written but also episodes of The Outer Limits, Babylon 5, and the original Star Trek, and as a litigious son-of-a-gun who will sue the pants off anyone who plagiarizes his work. It’s the second Ellison that we’re concerned with today because Deadline reports that Ellison has filed a lawsuit against New Regency for its upcoming film In Time, directed by Andrew Niccol and starring Justin Timberlake for its obvious similarities to his 1965 short story ”Repent, Harlequin! Said the Ticktockman.” Ellison is currently trying to stop the film from being released on October 28 if these issues are not sorted out by then (i.e. likely meaning that New Regency pays him a big chunk of change and gives him credit).
Both the film and the story are about a dystopian future in which time itself is strictly regulated and upper class authorities have the power to take time away from your life if you break the law. Others on the Internet have pointed out other similarities, but in short it’s safe to say that Ellison has a pretty strong case. This isn’t the first time Ellison has sued over films “borrowing” from his work — most famously, Ellison sued to receive credit and compensation for Terminator after James Cameron allegedly publicly admitted that the film was influenced by an Outer Limits episode that Ellison wrote (although Cameron has since denied this), which is why Ellison receives on-screen “acknowledgement” in the movie.
A lot of commentators have been complaining about Ellison being “greedy” and “delusional” but as a writer myself I totally identify with him. Ellison has spent decades waging battles against people who have plagiarized his work outright or even just copied the basic concepts of his work or posted his stories without authorization on the Internet. Personally, while I know Ellison is an abrasive figure to many people anyone who is a creative type ought to support his efforts to at least receive credit and/or compensation for the story of In Time if it is truly warranted. If the courts deem otherwise, oh well — but if the man deserves to be paid, well, in the words of Ellison himself, “Pay the writer!”
For more on Ellison and his (often very funny) views on creative piracy and compensation, see the videos below:
“Harlan Ellison on Creative Piracy”:
“Pay The Writer!”: