'Social Network' Inspires Strange New 'White Collar' Lawsuit

Jeff Eastin, the creator of "White Collar," is reportedly being sued by a man who helped him come up with the concept behind the hit USA Network show about a con artist who teams up with a federal agent. And there's an odd twist.

Travis Romero has filed a lawsuit over being cut out of the show's financial rewards, according to TMZ. Romero alleges that he and Eastin have worked together for 20 years, and that the show bubbled up from a conversation the two had in Eastin's San Fernando Valley hot tub. Romero says he was inspired to file a lawsuit after watching the film, The Social Network.

TMZ quotes the lawsuit as saying, "As he watched the movie, Romero realized that Eastin took advantage of him much like Mark Zuckerberg took advantage of Eduardo Saverin."

We're not sure why it's legally relevant to credit the inspiration for litigation in a complaint, but it does make us wonder how the Academy Award-winning film was received by all those who feel victimized by stolen ideas. And as we've covered frequently here, there's certainly no shortage of folks out there who believe that entertainment studios have ripped off their ideas. Most aren't successful. Ask the woman who just lost to ABC after claiming she created the underlying concept for Desperate Housewives. Or the woman who was ordered to pay $900K after asserting a meritless lawsuit against Warner Bros. over the 2005 film Monster-In-Law.

Perhaps a great number of people saw The Social Network and didn't get the message as delivered in this line: "If you guys were the inventors of Facebook, you'd have invented Facebook."

And maybe few individuals took home one of the other implicit lessons from the film: If you decide to work with someone on the creation of a project, get everything in writing.

We haven't seen Romero's complaint, so it's hard to analyze the allegations. The fact that a TV concept was discussed in a hot tub seems more salacious than winning, unless the two drew up some sort of partnership agreement in soap.

On the other hand, before this gets dismissed as nonsense altogether, we will note that Eastin has previously acknowledged Romero's contributions in interviews. For example, before the show's premiere, Eastin was quoted as saying, "The idea really came about, this was prestrike, pre WGA strike, and I had been kind of playing around with a couple of ideas. I’m a huge Shield fan, and I had worked with a friend of mine. We sort of bounced ideas off each other, a guy Travis Romero...Travis and I were sitting around discussing kind of what wasn’t on the air."

Hardly enough detail in this quote to prove much of anything, but add a tidbit about a hot tub and you at least get a lawsuit that's ripe for TMZ.

E-mail: eriqgardner@yahoo.com

Twitter: @eriqgardner