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Writer Sues BBC for Stealing 'Orphan Black'

The $5 million lawsuit alleges the series was cloned from a screenplay submitted to producers a decade ago.

Orphan Black Season 2 Episodic - H 2014
BBC America
"Orphan Black"

Hollywood theft lawsuits are common, but not every day does one allege a television show about conspiracy and clones is itself essentially a clone born through no good.

Stephen Hendricks has now filed a $5 million copyright infringement lawsuit in California federal court against BBC and series producer Temple Street Productions for lifting the critically acclaimed drama Orphan Black from his own work.

The plaintiff says he wrote a screenplay titled "Double Double" in the late 1990s. He says it has been registered with the WGA as well as the Copyright Office. He says that in 2004, he called Temple Street and was told by an assistant there to email a summary. It was sent to co-president David Fortier along with the actual screenplay. A couple weeks later, he was told by email that Temple Street was going to "pass."

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On March 4, 2013, Hendricks says he discovered Orphan Black, alleged to contain "the same, unusual core copyrightable expression as the Screenplay; i.e. the clandestine development of clones and the resulting journey of the protagonist to discover her origins."

Fortier is executive producer of the show.

Orphan Black has been credited as the creation of Graeme Manson and John Fawcett. The complaint cites an interview that Fortier gave where he says the two sent him "sort of a spec script" and that the show was developed over the course of four years.

Hendricks objects.

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"The similarities between the Series and the Screenplay are so substantial that it is a virtual statistical impossibility that the former could have been created independently from the latter," says the lawsuit.

Among the similarities cited in the complaint (read here): "Both protagonists are young (early 20s), attractive women who want the same thing: to understand who they are and where they come from"; "The protagonist’s birth certificate is a key clue that makes her suspicious about her origin"; "The recurring theme of clones reproducing is also present in both."

Ideas and generic tropes in entertainment aren't protectable. Only expression can't be cloned, and the plaintiff better hope that a judge credits the science fiction trappings as beyond the realm of the obvious. Besides a copyright claim, Hendricks also alleges a breach of implied contract to pay and credit him for contributions.

We've reached out to Temple Street and will add any comment.

E-mail: Eriq.Gardner@THR.com

Twitter: @eriqgardner