Warner Bros. Buys Story That Was Written In The Reddit Comments; Then Tells Author To Stop Redditing

from the wb,-you're-doing-it-wrong dept

Here's a story that starts out great... but then gets annoying towards the end.

I know we've got many Redditors here, but for those who don't spend time there, they might find this story interesting. We keep hearing stories these days about how the big movie studios are afraid to try anything particularly original when it comes to greenlighting movies -- preferring these days to do remakes, adaptations or sequels, knowing that they all bring in a guaranteed audience of some kind. So it's interesting to see (as sent in by Aaron DeOliveira) that Warner Bros. "aggressively" went after and bought the rights to a story that was written in the comments of Reddit. It started when a Reddit user asked if a modern US Marine infantry battalion could wipe out the entire Roman Empire given the modern technology they would have.

Reddit user Prufrock451, who is more commonly known as James Erwin (and is apparently an author and a "two-time Jeopardy winner") jumped at the opportunity to dash off a bit of fiction describing "day 1" of such a modern military unit being transported to the Roman Empire. And the Redditors liked it. Big time. They encouraged, nay demanded, that he write more. So he wrote some more, and an entire Subreddit was created, called Rome Sweet Rome, with plenty of people contributing additional ideas, including graphics and a hypothetical movie poster.

And late last week, the news came out that Warner Bros. had purchased the movie rights. Of course, there's a long way from buying the rights to actually having a movie made. I know folks who have sold movie rights only to see them languish for ages with nothing ever happening. Still, whole thing from comment to movie deal? A little over a month. When I read all that, I thought about how cool a move this was, and how it was nice to see Warner Bros. apparently being progressive on such a deal and realizing the value not just of the story but the wider Reddit community.

But then I read a little more. In an interview with Erwin on ScreenRant, Erwin admits that now that a deal has been signed he has to stop participating in the subreddit because everyone's "lawyered-up" and worried about "locked-down IP rights."
Unfortunately, I have not been able to spend time on Reddit. This is not because I think Iím too big for my britches now. The Internet is a chaotic, give-and-take place Ė and that creates nightmares for a lawyered-up industry based on locked-down IP rights. In a perfect world, I would be in that subreddit every day Ė but thatís not whatís best for the project. I want this to succeed, and that unfortunately meant going dark for a while. I hope the folks in the RomeSweetRome subreddit see this little mash note. I miss em.
Ah, what a shame. What could have been a fun, collaborative process that really involved and built on the community -- who would have loved it -- instead becomes a lame "lawyered-up" situation with "locked-down IP rights." Sorry, WB, but you missed the whole point.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    icon
    Brian B. (profile), Oct 17th, 2011 @ 11:18am

    Maybe it's something else...

    Maybe people like WB are more worried about other contributors in that thread seeking monetary reward for contributing as well?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
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    sehlat (profile), Oct 17th, 2011 @ 11:20am

    Companies Run By Lawyers Aren't Entreprenurial

    It's as simple as that.

    As far as I can tell, lawyers have two modes of thought:

    1. "Who can hit my client in the pocketbook for what the client is doing/has done?"

    2. "Who can I show has hurt my client in some fashion and hit them in the pocketbook?

    WB is run by lawyers, and to lawyers, any situation THEY do not pre-run damage control on is anathema.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 17th, 2011 @ 11:22am

    So - wait...

    When WB bought the movie rights for the Harry Potter books, did they ask Rowling to stop writing?

     

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  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 17th, 2011 @ 11:31am

    This happens on 4chan's traditional gaming board all the time. I'm not surprised Reddit is capitalizing on something we thought of first.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 17th, 2011 @ 11:32am

    Sorry, WB, but you missed the whole point.

    And,so did Prufrock451, who is more commonly known as James Erwin.

    Any work created under an open source creative commons license has multiple authors.

    Any work that has multiple authors that is sold by a single author without the permission of the other authors was sold illegally.

    In short Mr. Prufrock451 has committed fraud on WB. by selling WB a work he did not own.

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 17th, 2011 @ 11:36am

    Re:

    derp

     

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  7.  
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    Scooters (profile), Oct 17th, 2011 @ 11:48am

    Hold on a second...

    Why is WB being held accountable for this? If Erwin truly treasured the collaborative efforts of Reddit, shouldn't he have told WB to shove it when it came to such ridiculous demands on IP protectionism?

    Sorry, but this is just another clear-cut example of an author who exchanges his rights copyright granted them for the quick buck.

    I feel no sympathy for his "plight".

     

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  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 17th, 2011 @ 11:49am

    It's just a re-do of the concept of Final Countdown...
    Modern nuclear aircraft carrier goes back in time to take on Japanese fleet at Pearl Harbor
    ...in a different time-frame.
    Let the lawsuits fly...

     

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  9.  
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    gorehound (profile), Oct 17th, 2011 @ 11:49am

    Why even deal with the MAFIAA ?

    If I was anyone who had these good ideas the last thing I would ever do is to sell it to a MAFIAA.
    Should of said no to the deal.
    The MAFIAA is our enemy not our friend.They will steal whatever they can and then they will try to make us look like the "bad pirates".

     

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  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 17th, 2011 @ 11:53am

    They bought (and paid for) the rights to the project - they can do as they please. If you don't want someone else controlling the strings don't sell them the puppet.

    This is just like recording artists complaining that the studios are repressive - if you don't want to be controlled don't sell-out.

     

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  11.  
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    Paul (profile), Oct 17th, 2011 @ 12:01pm

    Re: Maybe it's something else...

    So they genuinely ARE afraid of collaboration?

     

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  12.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 17th, 2011 @ 12:04pm

    Not so original

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Janissaries_(novel)

    (Wonder if Jerry Pournelle has a good lawyer?)

     

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  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 17th, 2011 @ 12:10pm

    Re:

    yes 4chan invented group storytelling

     

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  14.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 17th, 2011 @ 12:12pm

    Re: Companies Run By Lawyers Aren't Entreprenurial

    Well when all you have is a modern US Marine infantry battalion, all of your problems look like the Roman Empire.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    identicon
    Alex Hagen, Oct 17th, 2011 @ 12:20pm

    Re:

    > Any work created under an open source creative commons license has multiple authors.

    And where does it say, or even imply, his work was created under an open source creative commons license?

     

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  16.  
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    Killercool (profile), Oct 17th, 2011 @ 12:24pm

    Re:

    Umm. No. What they bought and paid for was the movie rights. They do not now own the story. Unless the story above got that wrong, all that means is that WB can prevent someone else from making a movie based on RomeSweetRome, and, I'm assuming, they get first crack at any sequels. Which they are (insanely) insuring are probably never made.

     

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  17.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 17th, 2011 @ 12:31pm

    Re: Re:

    I think there are some aboriginal historians and a group of apostles would would like to discuss the concept of prior art with you.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    identicon
    NullOp, Oct 17th, 2011 @ 12:38pm

    NOT Original

    The Reddit story is not really original. There is a scifi story from the 60's, I believe, were a platoon of then-modern soldiers is transported back to the Civil War. They, of course, don't know what's going on but end up fighting in a battle where, according to history, the amount of gunfire was impossible given the number of men involved in the battle. I suggest Warner Brothers to do some serious research on this one before committing millions!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 17th, 2011 @ 12:42pm

    Re: Re:

    You act like they aren't going to hire a team of writers to actually write a story. They bought this guy's interpretation of an idea, they aren't stopping anyone else from contriguting to the subreddit, only this guy who was paid for his interpretation of an idea.

    I have zero sympathy for this man.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 17th, 2011 @ 12:43pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Yup, he took the check, he should just shut up and enjoy the cash.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
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    gorehound (profile), Oct 17th, 2011 @ 12:56pm

    Re:

    Exactly !!!
    Deal with the devil and you will get burned.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 17th, 2011 @ 1:04pm

    Re:

    Could not agree more, this guy sold out and is now whining. He should have tried to better understand the deal before taking it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    Larry, Oct 17th, 2011 @ 1:04pm

    Re:

    First thought that popped into my head: I wonder if the marines made it to rome in some time transportation storm?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
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    harbingerofdoom (profile), Oct 17th, 2011 @ 1:07pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    was the sarcmark really that needed there?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 17th, 2011 @ 1:12pm

    Re: NOT Original

    The movie Planet of the Apes has a similar theme, sorta.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
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    Richard (profile), Oct 17th, 2011 @ 1:13pm

    Re: Re:

    It doesn't - however it would seem that Reddit's own terms and conditions effectively trump the WB deal.

    "you agree that by posting messages, uploading files, inputting data, or engaging in any other form of communication with or through the Website, you grant us a royalty-free, perpetual, non-exclusive, unrestricted, worldwide license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, translate, enhance, transmit, distribute, publicly perform, display, or sublicense any such communication in any medium (now in existence or hereinafter developed) and for any purpose, including commercial purposes, and to authorize others to do so."

    It doesn't prevent WB from making the film - but it would seem that WB cannot exclude Reddit - or anyone else authorised by Reddit from doing the same.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 17th, 2011 @ 1:13pm

    "with plenty of people contributing additional ideas"

    Did WB buy the IP privileges from every single idea contributor? If not, then what are the legal ramifications? Doesn't every idea contributor have IP privileges over any idea they contributed and didn't sell to WB?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
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    Chosen Reject (profile), Oct 17th, 2011 @ 1:17pm

    Re: NOT Original

    Of course it's not original. Or am I the only one that has ever wondered what would happen if you showed up at some historic battle with a tank? Heck, Civilization has been playing this out for years.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
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    Marcus Carab (profile), Oct 17th, 2011 @ 1:30pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    I think there are some comedians and a group of linguists who would like to discuss the concept of irony with you. ;)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 17th, 2011 @ 1:39pm

    Re: Why even deal with the MAFIAA ?

    ... and do you, personally know how to produce a movie? I'm not a fan of the MPAA, but they do have lots of money and know how to get movies made, unlike me, and probably Erwin.

    I think you would jump at the chance once they started waving those dollar bills around. Did the guy have a ton of people knocking on his door offering him money?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 17th, 2011 @ 1:44pm

    So if I sell you my car, is it OK for me to still drive it?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
    icon
    The eejit (profile), Oct 17th, 2011 @ 2:08pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Do you know a lot about iron, but nothing about irony? BECOME A FOX NEWS PRESENTER TOO-DAY!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
    icon
    The eejit (profile), Oct 17th, 2011 @ 2:10pm

    Re: Re:

    I was thinking more like a 1985 DeLorean-towed Caravan running at 1.88 Jiggerwatts, myself.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
    icon
    kyle clements (profile), Oct 17th, 2011 @ 2:31pm

    The Anti TechDirt Approach.

    It seems like Warner Bros are going for a bit of an Anti-TechDirt approach on this project:

    Disconnect with fans + Reason to buy

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35.  
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    Richard (profile), Oct 17th, 2011 @ 2:52pm

    Re: Re:

    all that means is that WB can prevent someone else from making a movie based on RomeSweetRome,

    Actually - according to the Reddit TOS they can't stop Reddit. Reddit has a nonexclusive licence to everything on the site (including any derivative works in any medium).

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36.  
    icon
    Jon Lawrence (profile), Oct 17th, 2011 @ 3:25pm

    Fundamental Problem

    THIS is THE fundamental problem with legacy media today.

    I'm a Producers Guild member - and time and time again, the network and studio execs all know their business model is broken, but can't figure out how to fix it.

    It all boils down to a business that requires 100% lockdown on every bit of IP and creativity; they *will not relinquish or share any lick of control* with content creators.

    This is the #1 reason they will eventually fail.

    Adapting means giving up some level of control, because they no longer hold *all the keys* to the kingdom of content distribution. And they are not (yet) willing to cede any level of control, even when doing so could be a big net benefit for them.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37.  
    identicon
    gabriel bear, Oct 17th, 2011 @ 3:39pm

    no: wb got the point

    "We're having fun" and "This is a product, a business model,
    a revenue producer" often clash.
    Ask the guy at McDonald's.
    WB further "did right" when it allowed the spin-off community to build on auto-pilot.
    Erwin did "rightest of all" when he noted he had a duty to those paying him.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38.  
    identicon
    gabriel bear, Oct 17th, 2011 @ 3:44pm

    Re: So - wait...

    Rowling knew better than to be picking up support staff by doing her writing on open fora.
    The guy who asked the original question might be up for $20-30k for conceptualisation.
    And if i were CAmbridge i'd be asking rowling for a $50k
    a year scholarship fund for "mapping hogwarts", and leaving the gameboy tech wonks to wonk themselves.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39.  
    icon
    LiamO (profile), Oct 17th, 2011 @ 3:51pm

    Already done in comic form

    This sounds like a very similar premise to Jonathan Hickmans excellent graphic novel, Pax Romana
    http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pax_Romana_(comics)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  40.  
    icon
    Richard (profile), Oct 17th, 2011 @ 4:00pm

    Re:

    Seeing as you just sold me a car to which you had already granted a "royalty-free, perpetual, non-exclusive, unrestricted, worldwide license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, translate, enhance, transmit, distribute, publicly perform, display, or sublicense any such communication in any medium (now in existence or hereinafter developed) and for any purpose, including commercial purposes, and to authorize others to do so" to someone else already I think you have some more serious explaining to do...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  41.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 17th, 2011 @ 5:16pm

    Re: Fundamental Problem

    THIS is THE fundamental problem with legacy media today.

    I'm a Producers Guild member - and time and time again, the network and studio execs all know their business model is broken, but can't figure out how to fix it.

    It all boils down to a business that requires 100% lockdown on every bit of IP and creativity; they *will not relinquish or share any lick of control* with content creators.

    This is the #1 reason they will eventually fail.

    Adapting means giving up some level of control, because they no longer hold *all the keys* to the kingdom of content distribution. And they are not (yet) willing to cede any level of control, even when doing so could be a big net benefit for them.


    Maybe if the Producers Guild was an actual guild with any bargaining strength you'd have a measure of control. Interesting a reality tv producer on the margins of the industry presumes such insights into how studio and networks execs think of their business models.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  42.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 17th, 2011 @ 6:37pm

    Re: Re: Fundamental Problem

    "Interesting a reality tv producer on the margins of the industry presumes such insights into how studio and networks execs think of their business models."

    Interesting thing you said there. In that case, would you happen to be a lawyer, technology expert, studio/network exec, etc. I only ask, and this is hard to say because it's difficult to point down just which Anonymous Coward you are exactly, so many comments from Anonymous Cowards discount pretty much everything actual experts say on this site based on what is essentially nothing more than opinion. Without presenting any facts or evidence to support their claims/allegations/etc.

    I'm just curious as to what you do for a living. That way we can determine if your opinion matters more or less than the guy's in the Producer Guild.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  43.  
    icon
    Killercool (profile), Oct 17th, 2011 @ 6:42pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Having never used reddit, for no particular reason one way or the other, I did not know that. That's great! I wonder how the crazies here will react to find out that someone got paid, even though nobody had to.

     

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  44.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 17th, 2011 @ 7:26pm

    Response to: Anonymous Coward on Oct 17th, 2011 @ 11:31am

    Maybe we're just better than you

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  45.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 17th, 2011 @ 8:45pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    They purchased the movie rights to his idea not the idea itself (notice that the idea for the film has changed from original concept).

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  46.  
    identicon
    Rekrul, Oct 17th, 2011 @ 9:19pm

    Of course, there's a long way from buying the rights to actually having a movie made.

    Of course by the time a movie does get made, it will be called Timeclash and will be about a team of special forces commandos being sent back to the Roman era to catch a criminal who has gone into the past to re-write history. They befriend Caesar and have to help defend Rome from invasion by an army that the bad guy has equipped with super-advanced weapons.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  47.  
    identicon
    SpaceDog, Oct 17th, 2011 @ 9:30pm

    Re:

    It wasn't written under a creative commons license and wasn't written by multiple authors though.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  48.  
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    Jon Lawrence (profile), Oct 17th, 2011 @ 10:13pm

    Re: Re: Fundamental Problem

    Nice ad hominem there.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  49.  
    icon
    Jon Lawrence (profile), Oct 17th, 2011 @ 10:19pm

    Re: Re: Fundamental Problem

    Oh, and I'll adjust my argument. Obviously not ALL network and studio execs think/know their business models are in trouble.

    Some prefer life with their heads in their sand - most have 10, 20 years max until they're out, retired with lots of money or dead; so the longer they can keep their legacy gravy train rolling and then jump off and let the new guys figure it out, the better for them.

    All good for them; but probably not so good for the long term sustainability of the companies they "lead."

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  50.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 17th, 2011 @ 11:09pm

    Re: So - wait...

    Was Rowling writing on a public internet forum with no intellectual property protection?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  51.  
    icon
    Richard (profile), Oct 18th, 2011 @ 2:28am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    and obviously he can't post anything relationg to the "new" idea on Reddit - because that would bring it under the terms of the Reddit license. However the extent to which the "new" idea that WB have the rights to and the "original" idea that belongs to Reddit are actually different is somewhat questionable.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  52.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2011 @ 3:16am

    Mike, please sell me this post.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  53.  
    icon
    nasch (profile), Oct 18th, 2011 @ 4:52am

    Re: Re:

    Could not agree more, this guy sold out and is now whining.

    Where is the whining, exactly? All I've seen is him explaining why he's not on the reddit board.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  54.  
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    Avatar28 (profile), Oct 18th, 2011 @ 11:27am

    What really happened

    Since I was in the subreddit when this started happening, I can shed a bit of light on it. Prufrock happened to be in the right place at the just the right time with his bit of flash fiction. Redditors ate it up and it got quickly bounced to the front page.

    Someone on Reddit had contacts in the industry and brought it to the attention of some folks in a position of power. They saw the idea and the response and flew Prufrock out to LA for a meeting.

    They didn't just buy the idea. They set him up with one of their development companies to develop the idea further. They helped him get it registered with WGA and are keeping him on as the head writer while developing his skills to turn it into a proper screenplay. One of the reasons that this is moving along so fast is that they don't have to go through all the focus group group. This idea effectively originated FROM a focus group.

    His not being on Reddit is the same as any writer. They simply can't accept outside ideas and pitches. It sucks but anyone who reads TechDirt can see why. Look at all stupid "U stoled my idea so give me all your monehs" lawsuits Mike reports on. If people wouldn't constantly file crap like that we might see more open collaboration on stuff.

    As far as the rights go, it has been discussed on Reddit. The license doesn't give Reddit ownership of the idea. It grants them a non-exclusive license to basically use it how they see fit. Reddit could go make their own movie based on what is already out there but Prufrock still owns what he wrote. Reddit has no say or rights to over any derivative content. My guess is that he will start over with the same basic concept but rewrite it with all new characters and details since I doubt any studio would be keen to share the rights to it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  55.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2011 @ 2:26pm

    Re: Re:

    "What they bought and paid for was the movie rights. "

    Apparently they bought it from someone who was in no position to sell them. Just like my neighbor can't sell my car, how is this person able to sell the movie rights to an idea that was collectively constructed by a community under terms and conditions that don't give this single person the permissions necessary to sell those rights (ie: under Reddit's TOS). IOW, WB bought those rights from someone with no standing to sell them.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  56.  
    identicon
    JR, Oct 18th, 2011 @ 2:43pm

    Re:

    I don't think 4chan created the short story, or fan fiction. Easy turbo.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  57.  
    identicon
    Guilherme, Oct 29th, 2011 @ 5:41am

    Re: So - wait...

    I'm pretty sure that she couldn't write in an open blog or website...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  58.  
    identicon
    wayne, Feb 21st, 2013 @ 10:12pm

    Re: NOT Original

    can you find out the name of that story, where the modern day platoon of soldiers end up in the american civil war

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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