Some rumors never die. Worst are those that get perpetuated by folks who should have known better. That is what happened the other day on WVON 1690 AM when host Perri Small had on a guest, Sophia Stewart. If Stewart’s name doesn’t ring a bell, that’s understandable. However the rumor about her will jog a memory: Black woman wins $3.5 billion lawsuit against the makers of The Terminator and The Matrix.
As a writer, I tuned in to hear her story. There is no bigger fear than to have one’s work stolen by somebody else. But as Stewart told her story, certain things weren’t very clear or adding up. In truth, many of her “facts” were confusing and good writers should be able to take a concept from point A to point B with clarity. Later on, someone posted about the segment on social media and a firestorm began as people began posting that the story wasn’t true. I did my own Internet research and found very little to substantiate the rumor. Thankfully, someone posted a link to the judge’s ruling, and I began to read. The case is titled, Stewart v. Wachowski.
From what I’ve learned, Intellectual Property Law is a very difficult and specialized area of the law as it protects the rights of inventions, designs and artistic works. We’ve seen just last year how the estate of Marvin Gaye won against Robin Thicke in the “Blurred Lines” lawsuit. I cheered when that happened because it was very clear to me that the two songs sounded identical. I also grew up during an era and remember hearing a very popular black song sung by a white artist that sounded nothing like the black version. So to see a woman make an allegation that the courts deny made me want to look at the ruling with a skeptical eye. I wanted the little person who goes against the big person to win. I wanted the story to be true. But reading the very detailed ruling left no stone unturned.
Some details to keep in mind when it comes to written artistic expression: There is a limited number of genres to it. So using Harlequin Romances as an example where all the story are two people meet, fall in love, have an issue(s), then go on to live happily ever after, is a formula that works so well that at one time a few years back, Harlequin was publishing hundreds of titles a month. So if there were ever an arena to have charges of copying ideas, it would seem logical in that arena.
Getting back to the lawsuit, there has to be more to it than just writing a short piece and then claiming someone stole it. The burden of proof was on Stewart and she was unable to prove that the people she sued ever had access to her work — especially when the Wachowski Brothers, who would have been 18 and 21 years old at the time, were supposedly plundering Stewart’s work.
What I found most interesting are those who still want to believe the rumor even when presented with irrefutable evidence to the contrary. As I read the judge’s 500-plus page ruling and her dissection of facts from fiction, it was well documented and pretty straightforward. Even for those of us who are amateurs when it comes to legal proceedings, if Stewart had any kind of hopes of actually winning billions in a lawsuit, even those lawyers who graduated at the bottom of their law classes would be on board to try and prove the suit so they can share in the rewards.
Maybe there is a smoking gun somewhere that will eventually bring out a “surprise” truth. I doubt it, but one never knows. In the meantime, it’s a lie, it didn’t happen and hopefully we can put that rumor to rest.