Back in late 2006, I got a bit of a shock. Maybe you do as I do but I like to beachcomb through Google and see what people are saying about the things I have written. I pick up a few comments about The 23rd Letter and Zombi most often, usually through RPG.net which seems to be the big granddaddy of RPG-related internet portals. It’s pretty nice for the most part and I get to talk to some interesting people (and make excuses for the things I missed). As The 23rd Letter is still on sale via Key20, every now and then I get an email asking about it which is why I’ve started posting updated materials on the blog here. There have been some relative champions of The 23rd Letter, like Chris Lupton and Max Cairnduff, who have both gone above and beyond in the past to make the games known and for that I’ve always been grateful.
Anyway, this was the shock.
This page linked to Starway Pictures, a Hollywood-based production company, who were producing an adaptation of The 23rd Letter, a film about ESP and psychokinesis. I was utterly gobsmacked.
The script for “The 23rd Letter” was written by Jim Beck, an aspiring screenwriter who had also written gaming material for Paradigm Concepts , a small RPG company, but Jim Beck was mostly identified via his blog at blackroosterfilms.tripod.com. My stuff is also listed at pen-paper.net and a few years ago, t23l would have been a lot more on the lips of people.
Information on the 23rd Letter movie was posted all around on Filmmaker magazine, XLCinema.com and the Digital Video Information Network. The stars mentioned it on their myspace pages and there seemed to be loads of mentions of the name as I started digging deeper. Heaps more material is available on the Starway Pictures blog in February 2006, March 2006, April 2006, May 2006 and November 2006 including demo footage and pitch reels.
I found out about it in November 2006 and have been sitting on it for months. Why? Because I was really unsure at what to do about it. Am I supposed to assume the worst?
What do you do in this case?
[UPDATE: I’ve been talking to Robert Sanders @ Starway via email (and inadvertently to his lawyer (who didn’t get the hang of “Reply All”) and I think we’re resolving any issues. I do not believe that there was any infringement of IP so it’s now down to whether they change the name or we agree to jointly use the name).]
and yeah, I took PDFs of the pages just in case they vanished…
We talked about this a while ago, back when we first read about it. For my part, you have several options for the long term, but really only one for the short term.
Long term you can hope for: they change the title of the movie, they acknowledge you in the credits, they pay you some token amount for the rights to the name, or something along those lines.
Short term, you should get in touch with them, stating who you are, what the *real* 23rd Letter is, and to ask them to contact you to discuss things further.
Copyright and Trademark laws are definitely in your favour here, from what I can see. Darryl Collins will probably know more on that front.
I forgot to ask, what do you want to actually happen? In an ideal world, would you rather them make the movie and you be involved somehow?
I’m not sure what I want. Sitting on this for over a year has not clarified anything in my mind regarding it. It doesn’t look like it was going anywhere anyway but it sure puts a bit of downer on the screenplay stuff we were talking about before regarding doing 23rd Letter shorts.
(one interesting sign: it has no imdb entry, which means the project may not be going anywhere)
I’d guessed that…
As Aiden says, depends on what you want to happen. At the very least they should acknowledge the original source material, i.e. your work. I’d contact them, being as polite as possible and see what they say. I think it’d be rather cool to have a movie made about something you wrote and you shouldn’t let them think that your out to get your pound-of-blood but rather recognition of your work. At the very least it’d drive sales up for your RPG…
Well, I’ve emailed the President of Starway to ask what the production status of The 23rd Letter is.
C*nt them in the f*ck. It’s what I’d do.
When your stuff influences movies, it’s good. When it is stolen, it’s bad. You’ve got an excellent case and I fail to see how there could be any doubt.
I’m told the writer Jim Beck from Paradigm is a different writer Jim Beck from blackroosterfilms.
Who could have guessed?
Does anyone here have any concrete proof that Starway “stole” the idea for their film “The Twenty-Third Letter” from Matt’s RPG “The 23rd Letter?” Just because people come up with the same titles for things doesn’t make them the same thing, and just because their film idea revolves around ESP and psychokinesis AND has the same title doesn’t mean they ripped anyone off. How many times in Hollywood would you wager unrelated people come up with stories and titles that are very close to, if not almost the same as, each other’s, without any plagiarism actually taking place? The truth is, it happens all the time. There are far more cases of coincidence than theft.
So, I just want to caution people here to calm down and not jump to any conclusions without actual, bona fide proof that this company “stole” anything, and before people go off and say things that may not be true about these people.
I don’t think their movie is based on Matt’s book. It’s more the concern that they will make a movie which infringes on the 23rd Letter trademark. Given that we have discussed producing fiction and that we’ve even written a screenplay based on the work, there is a genuine cause for concern over their choice of name.
I’ve received some emails from Robert (and inadvertently from his lawyer too).
I don’t think there’s any plagiarism and I’m going to update the blog entry.
With vulgar and offensive postings such as the one by Jared Earle it is a miracle that anyone would take anything related to your project seriously. The rampant paranoia expressed on this page is not only unfounded, it is borderline slanderous. Educate yourselves about a company and its creative team before making ignorant assumptions and accusations.
Alex: it’s the internet – people make vulgar postings everywhere. Anyone is free to post whatever they like in the comments, as you yourself have done. We’ve only ever censored spam.
As for “rampant paranoia”, I think Matt stated the case quite well: he was gobsmacked to find out that there was a movie with a similar name and themes to the game that he had published. How is that paranoid, or borderline libelous (which I presume is what you meant when you said slanderous?). I don’t think either of us at any time thought the movie was based on material from the game.
Alex, perhaps you’re new to Trademark issues. The most appropriate response to someone using content ‘similar’ to your material and with the same name is to slap a CEASE AND DESIST letter on them faster than you typed your invective.
I did educate myself about the company: I read up on their past productions, scoured web forums, asked friends of mine in the industry (handy that my other company is a supplier to half a dozen film and TV companies). I did my homework. It’s somewhat daft that Starway didn’t think to check the ‘name’ out via Google. It’s not as if it’s hidden – the only item that scores higher on Google is the Wikipedia entry for ‘psi’.
It’s not rampant paranoia, this is the way you are meant to respond to trademark infringement – because that’s what it is, plain and simple. I’ve had a book published (currently available in the US, on Amazon UK and in the British Library) for 12 years now.
The effects of trademark infringement are plain, which is why companies spend millions every year defending their trademarks. This is why I’d be in trouble if I produced a book based on a time-travelling robots from the future and called it Terminator. Or if I wrote an RPG based on a school where they taught kids about magic and called it “Hogwarts”. The issue here is of trademark and copyright: I have a trademark in the book name used in the context of conspiracies and psychic powers. This is a film about a cop with psychic powers investigating a conspiracy: pretty much identical to one of the DOZENS of plot suggestions in the book.
I don’t want to be in the situation of Starway accusing me of infringement when I release my next book for The 23rd Letter. I have informed them about the infringement, offered them the options of either changing the name or agreeing to both of us being able to use the name (similar to how Marvel and DC both own ‘superhero’ as a trademark.
If you think this is paranoia, then you’re incredibly naive.
As for Vulgar and Offensive posting, you’re right there on the ad hominem attacks.
Current Status is that I have offered two options
a) they can change their name. No foul.
b) we can agree to share the trademark. No foul.
I think that’s exceedingly fair.
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Vulgar and Offensive? I see you’ve met me then.
A blog is judged by its content, not its comments. I have nothing to do with the game 23rd Letter but I know how the RPG industry works. Having seen one film take concepts from my own intellectual property and having seen what Sony did to Nancy Collins, you need to act fast before you’re taken for a ride.
If you don’t defend your IP with a vengeance, you will lose it. Simple as that. Slap them and slap them hard. If it turns out to be one big misunderstanding when the dust settles, apologies and move on. They’d understand; they’d do the same.
So, yes. C*nt them in the F*ck, as the humour site B3ta puts it.