If You Have A Screenplay Worth Millions, Shouldn't You Back It Up?

from the courts-think-so dept

Here’s a fun story for a Friday. It appears that a guy who had written three screenplays (creatively titled: “Color of Tulip,” “Blood on Ice,” and “Blood on Seven Hills”) saved them all to his desktop and didn’t bother backing them up. At one point, he had entered into negotiations to sell the screenplays for $2.7 million, but those talks never went anywhere. However, sometime after this, he signed up for DSL from SBC (now AT&T). When the technician came to his house to install the DSL, he tried to “help” by cleaning up the “unused” items on the guy’s desktop — which, of course, included the screenplays. Eventually, SBC paid for data recovery (and fired the technician), which seems fair. The data recovery process didn’t fully work, since it wasn’t done until quite some time after the files were deleted, by which point the data had been overwritten. However, the guy wanted more, claiming that the screenplays were worth the millions he never actually got in a signed deal. The courts, however, appear to disagree, with a jury noting that he was also at fault for not making a backup of such “valuable” files. While it’s true that the tech never should have deleted the files, it’s a bit of a stretch to believe that they’re worth millions without any deal in place. The lack of a backup suggests that the guy didn’t even value the content enough to do the most basic of backups.

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Comments on “If You Have A Screenplay Worth Millions, Shouldn't You Back It Up?”

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JerseyRich says:

Re: Aaron

what’s with the “(Additions included Napster and RealPlayer and their related media files.)” in the article. how is that even revelant? a stab at Music Piracy?

No, the author just mentioned that some of the 4,134 files that overwrote the screenplays were Napster and RealPlayer files.

I can almost guarantee that the guy who ‘talked’ to the screenplay-writer about paying him $2.7 million only testfied because the guy promised him a cut of the settlement.

Dave says:

litigation USA

Reminds me of a Hotel where a friend worked at. They forgot to give a guest a wakeup call and he missed his flight. He sued them because of a lost business deal.

I worked in a small repair shop and we get them to sign a form absolving us of any liability in the event of data loss. Remember when you didn’t need a lawyer to work in IT.

ForkBoySpam says:

Clean Up

Though by default the feature is turned on, and should be off – there by allowing those that want to use the feature a chance to turn it on – the “Clean Up Unused Icons” feature only moves them to a folder on the PC and does not delete them. The Tech had to have deleted the items manually.

Still the user should have backed them up, that’s just common sense.

Comboman says:

Re: Studio Have a Copy? No

If he had entered into negotiations to sell the screenplays with a studio or whatever wouldn’t they have had a copy? I mean something they considered paying millions for you think they’d at least save them, no?

If he had given the studio a copy they wouldn’t need to buy it. Hollywood does NOT operate on the honor system. When selling a script, you give the studio what’s called a script treatment, a couple page summary of the characters & plot (studio execs don’t have time to read scripts anyway).

Topher3105 (profile) says:


I mean, I now it is hard to reproduce something like a screenplay from memory, the guy should have a pretty clear memory about how the plot went. If the guy is worth his salt as a writer, then he will rewrite the plays, and by doing so, make them better in the process. This is of course assuming the guy was sober when he writes.

Second, get a friggin clue buddy. Saving documents to your desktop, the guy probably had hundreds of icons on his desktop. I can’t stand moronic people that don’t LEARN how to use computers, they just are lazy and drop files on the desktop because they are too stubborn to figure out how to do things properly.

In any case, I agree that this case would have been tossed out. I mean if the guy got paid and then the files were deleted, and he had to return the money, there would be damages, but not before he sold the screenplays.

Finally, 2.7 million for 3 screen plays? The average Hollywood screen play for unknown or first time writers is around $100,000, and that is being generous. Who is this guy, Michael Crichton?

Pseudonym says:

Advice for the budding screenwriter...

For the benefit of those who don’t know about the business of screenwriting, it’s pretty clear that this guy knew nothing.

Here’s what you’re supposed to do. You write your screenplay (though you should probably even do this with a treatment), then you print out a copy and seal it in an envelope. You lodge this with the local Writer’s Guild.

Then, and only then, can you start negotiating.

This serves multiple purposes, the most important of which is that if, after negotiations fail, you find the studio coming out with a similar film, you have proof that you had the story earlier.

If this “writer” had taken this basic precaution, he’d still have his screenplay today. Incidentally, AFAIK it costs no more to lodge a CD in the same envelope as your hard copy. A small price to pay for an off-site backup.

rick morris says:

Screenplay worth millions

If someone comes into my home and damages my property (even though it is unintentional), they are liable for damage recovery. For instance, when I was moving my household goods, the shipper would damage my furniture. The shipper always paid for repairs.

In the case of intellectual property, such as written memoirs, manuscripts, screenplays, etc. it is difficult to assign a value, and in most cases the property cannot be recovered nor replaced with new materials.

I suppose it is possible to purchase insurance for protecting intellectual property, but the difficulty of assigning a value is still unresolved.

My grandmother wrote an auto-biography and I have the original manuscript. It was never published, and yet is totally irreplaceable. It cannot be re-created should be accidently damaged.

Suppose someone came into my home, and damaged this “priceless” manuscript. Perhaps, I had it in my kitchen where I was reading it, and the repairman accidently spilled water on the manuscript rendering it unusable. Is the repairman liable for damages? How much?

Am I liable for handling the manuscript carelessly by leaving it in my kitchen? Did I cause the repairman to accidently spill water? Could I forsee that someone could spill water in my kitchen onto my “priceless” manuscript?

Should I take reasonable steps to safeguard my manuscript from accidental damage?

I am sure everyone has “priceless” possessions, that are not protected from damage. Yet when someone accidently damages my stuff in my home, I would expect them to compensate me for my loss.

J Smooth says:

Re: True writers don't trust computers to store script

AS I a screenwriter, if you write a screenplay, you should always backup your scripts. If you’re a real screenwriter, you should remember what you wrote in your screenplays. If I lost a script, I can fabricate the story again. The dialogue and visuals will not be exact, but the concept would remain similiar to the original idea. Real writers will keep notes in a book. I backup my screenplays on multiple locations such as memory sticks, discs, notebooks, pocket books and by e-mails. Maybe this guy will learn and not make the mistake again. Scripts take time to write and it really sucks to allow a computer that is usually unstable to hold them. Screenwriters that worked before computers didn’t have the luxury of technology. It’s a learning lesson. Maybe you can use it in a future screenplay.

John says:

I work in the tech industry and we get this all the time. Thats why we litterly inforce a databack up and make them sign a disclaimer before we work on thier machine. I had one guy claim he had 22 million in bank statements ONLY stored on his computer and they went missing after a virus removal……. people will do anything to get money these days. IF it is that damn important take 10mins out of your day and burn a cd….

Court says:

Whatever idiot wrote the alleged plays is a moron. In hollywood you submit everything you write to the guild, before you negotiate with a studio. I know there are a few people who don’t, but even then you have a hard copy, although most of the time, the studio use them to hold the starewell doors open. (I AM NOT kidding about this), Scripts are doorstops everywhere on studio lots. A nice 2 foot high stack will hold a wide door open for all 🙂

Seth Clark says:

2 Words - US DataVault

Whether or not he should or should not have an idiot technician ‘clean up’ his files, he should have stuff backed up.

I learned the hard way last year and lost everything and started backing up everything with US DataVault offsite.

Sure enough, my son got on my computer and erased all of my documents last week. All I can say is, thank God I had that service.

And no, I’m not an employee, I just like the service 🙂

Chad says:

I do in home repairs on computers as part of my job as a tachnician, and I would say almost every computer that I work on has the desktop filled with useless garbage. But, there’s no reason that anything on the desktop could have been interfering with his DSL connection.

When I, or anyone working in my department is on someones comnputer you delete nothing without asking. Although my understanding on the way unions work with screenwriting there shouldnt be anyway that another copy of his workn shoulnt exist, and the lawsuit is riduculous. (Not to mention any data revovery software could bring these files back) the AT&T was still an idiot.

orval says:

rick morris

Whoah Rick, you sound like an ass.

If you invite someone into your home then I would say, yes, the damage they cause is your responsibility.

You’re the same guy who trips on someone else’s property and blames them for it. In any case, is anything ever your fault or do you constantly pass blame?

Take some responsibility. You write passionately about it “being your stuff in your house.” They’re also “your guests” and it’s “your responsibility to ensure that your valuable belongings are secured when your guests are about.”

You define the value of that manuscript by your actions you take with it. If you leave it out while company is around, you also agree to take the risks associated with that. The same with hired help. In the case of the movers you mention, you are paying them to “safely move” the items, and thus compensation for damage can be expected. In the case of you leaving out your precious memiors when the electrician comes over, then you may as well tell me that your delicate stained glass floors are damaged when you asked a squad of tap dancing elephants over to watch TV with you. The manuscript and the electrician have nothing to do with each other, and if you left it in his way then be a man about the consequences.

In the case of this article, the whole thing was likely a scam. The worth of digital files is often under debate – and in this case, the judge was right.

james lee says:

online backup for students

backupanytime.com offer free backup for masters level students and half price backup for life for graduates. The commercial packs are not cheap (but offer the longest retention period in the industry) but the idea seems to be that when we get employment our boss will pay for commercial backup on foot of our account and famialirity with the product. I will be working for myself next year writing a book so no chance of that but backupanytime are not to know I intend continuing the free ride…..

B says:

I use a dvd-rw to back up my USB key. In case if files were to become corrupted.
I have a crap full of files, mainly music and movies burnt in DVDS and CDS in about two spindles worth.
I have a feeling that I would need 2 8GB USB keys and one external hard drive to back up all of my stuff. As precaution back up the external hard drive.
I hear the new external toaster hard drive dock stations are adequate

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