Harlan Ellison Sues Star Trek

Harlan Ellison is about as blunt as you can get, and he has earned his clout being one of the most prolific and accomplished writers in TV and Novels. And now the saucy scribe has gone and sued Star Trek for creating derivative works based on his legendary script for City on the Edge of Forever, one of the most critically acclaimed episodes of the entire Star Trek franchise.

Hardcore Nerdity shares:

Author and aging enfant terrible Harlan Ellison issued a typically amusing press release detailing a lawsuit he’s launched against Paramount regarding use of intellectual property deriving from his 1966 Star Trek script “The City On The Edge Of Forever”. Specificially a trilogy of Trek novels that use multiple elements of “City” as a springboard.

Normally I don’t care much for writers suing to get their cut since most of them are entitlement whores who want more than their contract outlines. However, Ellison is not an idiot, and this case looks like it could have merrit. It appears that this WAS in his contract. It seems that any stories that stem from the events he wrote would earn him residuals. Some novels were written based on the outcome of the events of his story, so he wants his piece. The piece that his contract suggests are due him.

This is how I think these things should be resolved. If its in your contract, you are entitled, but if you failed to stipulate it in the contract, that’s too bad. You were paid for a job and the job now belongs to those who paid for it.

You can read the whole press release at Harlan Ellison’s Website

Otherwise, be treated to a moment of classic clarity by Harlan discussing “getting paid” in Hollywood.

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29 thoughts on “Harlan Ellison Sues Star Trek

  1. BobbaFett, you put the word craft in inverted commas like you really don’t respect writers or writing at all. That may account for your angle on all this.

    Also, Ellison is not crying like he is poor. He is asking for what he is due.

    It really doesn’t matter if it was five or fifty years. It’s still his writing.

    And by-the-way, a good director, cast, camera man etc will not save a bad scipt. You cannot polish a turd as the old saying goes.

  2. and lastly, contracts can be interpreted many different ways. Especially if they are written 50 + years ago!

    Most people who read a contract have angle that they WANT to move toward. It’s natural to see the holes in contracts from that aspect. The best attorneys are those that can see the opposite side and see how the fight will be fought.

    1. Funny that Ellison rarely loses a case on these contracts that need to be “interpreted”

      Contract law is very specific, and the english language has not changed so much in 50 years that suddenly the contract has different meaning.

      His contract clearly lays out that the story he is contributing to the Star Trek canon is theirs, however should further stories stem from these specific events then he would get a cut.

      Really not much to interpret. Interpretation of the law is often when someone is performing a vague act and they have to decide if it qualifies. In contract law, either you did what it says or you didn’t. It’s pretty straight forward.

  3. HE IS SO RIGHT!!!!!!!




    1. Ummm…why do you think we have to pay so much for movie tickets? DVDs, Blu-ray etc…because people like this try to milk their “craft” for all its worth.

      Also, in my above comments, I never stated that Mr Ellison was a bad writer, in fact far from it. I am a fan. However, I hate it when these people cry like they are poor from all of their intellectual property is stolen!!! Puh—leez!

      I agree that the story in question, “City on the Edge of Forever”, is not being remade, adapted or such, just that in some way being “spun off”.

      If that’s the case, shouldn’t the Tolkein estate get a royalty anytime a orc, halfling, elf, or magic ring is used in fantasy literature? Frankly, should the Tolkein estate get royalties on ANY fantasy literature?

      And for that matter should Ben Burtt receive a payment when you hear a wilhelm scream in a movie?
      (The answer is NO, because he himself “appropriated” the sound effect from the movie “Distant Drums” (1951).

      Does this mean that the Ehud Yonay (Look it up), should get a piece of Tom Cruise’s future movies because they helped make him a star? Or maybe the Navy should get a cut of him too? Maybe his parents should get a percentage since they “spawned” him (or was that Xenu?).

      The point of all of this is, this isn’t like he wrote this for a series 5 years ago. It’s been over 50 years! By the way anyone read “The Soldier”? It’s a long way off from “The Terminator”, but does have similarities but then I’m sure that Mr Ellison believes he invented time travel as a plot device.

      Also, please realize that if Mr Ellsion does win this “case”, it won’t be the companies who get less money it will be the writers who are doing the work to continue the story. So, indeed, it’s a case of biting the hand that feeds…

    2. There is a difference between inspiration and direct use of a property. Pretty much everything in modern medieval fantasy can be traced back to inspiration of Tolkien’s works, but no one is out there making “spinoffs” Lord of the Rings books without paying proper cut to them. Your assessment is inaccurate.

      In this case, as stated in his contract, derivative works are being created that are playing on the popularity and awareness of the events in City on the Edge of Forever, using specific characters, locations and scenarios mentioned in that story. Without the clause in the contract, Paramount can let whoever they want write a story that spins off that episode. But the contract clearly states that if a story direclty spins off that story, he would get a cut of that.

      I dont see why this is so hard to comprehend. They could easily have said, ‘we are paying for the story and what happens next is our decision and you don’t get paid for spinoffs’ but they didn’t. They agreed to the stipulations and now he is calling them on it.

      Building your work on the shoulders of another person demands you give due credit or compensation. An agent making someone famous got paid to do it and DOES get a cut of whatever they earn them. Once they no longer represent that star, they stop getting paid. That is in their contract. Again, you presume too much.

      And the Ellison/Terminator thing was an ‘acknowledgement to the works of’ credit on The Terminator and a cash settlement lest he sue for plagiarism, admitted without Ellison suing. They settled before hand due to the similarities of his Soldier and Glass Hand stories.

      Also, know that if Ellison wins this, paramount will be dishing out the cash to him and the fans will not be paying for this at all. The cost of the books will remain the same, just the parties involved will be required to pay Harlon his cut.

      Ellison is still very respected as a writer despite repeatedly standing up for himself in court. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that his lawsuits are not frivolous, and he is respected for defending writers rights.

  4. I’m sorry, I have to strongly disagree with this. This is without merit.

    Halan Ellison did not create Star Trek or the characters.Ellison, who was extremely critical of the late Gene Roddenberry, created Babylon 5, and he would have some say on that. Or if there was a remake of the cult classic A Boy and His Dog

    Of course, Ellison didn’t write all the Babylon 5 episodes; so what if a writer (or two) said ‘well, we aren’t being paid for a spinoff material after creating a guest character or situation appears in that book etc.’ How would Ellison feel about that? Well, it may be true that writer(s) created a new guest character for a show- but being part of a collaborative effort such characters and situations do not belong to them. It belongs to the people who own the show.

    *Despite writing a number of drafts, Halan Ellison was rewritten by Steven W. Carabatsos, Gene L. Coon, D. C. Fontana and Gene Roddenberry. This is well-documented. Like or hate that fact, the episode that was filmed was part of a collaborative effort.

    Ellison is, however, the sole credited writer on the episode per WGA contract. He’s also suing the WGA, by the way.

    “Many people would get prizes if they wrote scripts that budgeted out to three times the show’s cost”- Gene Roddenberry

    1. Darren, if he hadn’t already established the very details in a contract that they agreed to… I might agree.

      This isn’t about whether he should get residuals. The studio had the option to decline those when they made the contract. But they agreed, and now they should own up to it.

    2. Sorry Rod, I don’t agree with this at all. The WGA credited Ellison and gave him an award for his original draft of City On The Edge Of Forever. It wasn’t the script that was shot, as others had rewritten and revised him.

      He doesn’t own anything in regards to “intellectual property”. His work on Trek is part of Trek. He doesn’t own any bit of Trek. His suit should be thrown out.

    3. It isn’t about IP. He isn’t claiming to have invented Star Trek, but he did invent the supporting characters and scenario of the City on the Edge of Forever, from which the novels are based. It is his contribution to Star Trek that is making these novels possible, which he had the forsight to include in his contract.

      His contract says he gets paid for his gig, and makes a hefty residual if something not of the core Star Trek IP carries on.

      You are very wrong saying he doesn’t own any part of Trek since very specifically in the contract he had when writing that episode clearly states that if they continue to make derivative works from his scenario that he would get a cut. They had every right to just say “No, you write the episode and what comes of it later is still ours” but they didn’t.

    4. A little story that confirms Rodney’s point.

      In 1941 Orson Wells crated a film called “Citizen Kane” (you might have heard of it). In his contract it stipulated that any future technological enhancements had to be approved by himself, or after his death, by his estate. So when Ted Turner started colorizing films, and made an attempt to colorize Citizen Kane (Turner had bought the RKO library), he had to go through Welles estate, because it was in Welles original contract.

      His estate basically told Turner to go F**k himself.

  5. First of all, I DON’T respect the writers in this SPECIFIC case. They, like the musicians of today, get paid OVER and OVER and OVER when there works are brought to new mediums, without them doing any more work.

    So Mr Ellison did some work back in the 60s on Star Trek and got paid for it, and has continued to see royalties based on that episode. This is also standard operating procedure for Mr Ellison, as he sues ALOT. Maybe if he spent more time writing instead of looking for “plagiarism”, he’d not need the money. And please don’t tell me this is about “ideals”.

    Now he wants more…Is the continuation of his story been a big hit? Has it made millions of dollars? I don’t know about you, but I never heard of it, even though I’m on blogs like this daily.

    This is different than the Clive Cussler suit, in that Mr Cussler’s IP (over 20 Dirk Pitt novels)had a lot more value than a simple story/script.
    And was obviously damaged by the farce that was Sahara.

    Now, I know I’m in the minority, but did you know that it is estimated that the Tolkein estate makes between 60 and 70 million per year? (Before the movies it was estimated to be bringing in 30-40 million per year)…
    It has been over 50 years since his most popular property has been published.

    The Poe Estate brings in an estimated 20 million per year. It has been over 150 years since his death…

    I agree with people making money for their contributions as well as maintaining there lives after retirement, but at some point it’s no longer about their craft. It becomes about the almighty dollar.

    There are plenty of people copying Kevin Smith and you don’t see him suing anyone for anything. In fact, I’ve talked with him and he is very gracious for everything he has, based on what he had thought his career would be. And is very humble to be where he is, and claims to be “lucky”.

    To think of it another way, how much of billion dollar franchises are the result of the writer, and how much is the result of a great director, cinematographer, actors, etc…(Especially relevant in the case of Mr Ellison!)

    In closing, while I’m sure our beloved blog owner John Campea is about making a living, and establishing a career, he’s not looking to make $20 million a year from an IP. It’s also about accomplishing something, and having a goal.
    However, if he was living under a bridge in LA, I’d have a problem with that as well.

    Again, I know that MOST people will probably disagree with me, but this is my take.

    1. First of all, Writers, like music artists who’s work is covered deserve to benefit when others are clearly making a living off their efforts. I don’t see your issue with this.

      Mr Ellison did some work back in the 60s on Star Trek, for which he had a contract saying if someone riffed on his work he would get a cut. They had the chance to say no and offer just to pay for the story and offer no residuals but they said “Sure thing”.

      He doesn’t want “more” he wants what he made arrangements for, which they agreed to.

      All the rest of what you typed is really irrelevant. If he hadn’t already made a contract that contradicts every point you might have alluded to it might have been worth all the typing.

      He has a contract that says “if this happens, you pay” and the studio said yes.

      Really done.

    2. “Is the continuation of his story been a big hit? Has it made millions of dollars? I don’t know about you, but I never heard of it, even though I’m on blogs like this daily.”

      You never heard of “City on the Edge of Forever.”

      That one statement invalidates everything you wrote, however…

      Yes Ellison sues alot. And he wins his suits. He wins because he has a case. He believes in the rights of writers and getting their due for their work, that is why he negotiates his contracts feverishly, so when James Cameron writes and directs a film called “The Terminator” without him acknoledging the source material that Ellison wrote for The Outer Limits (brilliant story called The Soldier), he sues and gets a shit load of money (I believe he now gets royalties for anything Terminator related).

      As for this ludicrous statement…

      “Maybe if he spent more time writing…”

      Just go here… http://harlanellison.com/booklist.htm

    3. “…how much is the result of a great director, cinematographer, actors, etc…”

      You should read some of the scripts floating around these days. No director or performer can save a badly written script.

  6. Ellison is one of the true originals in literature. He has written some of the best screenplays for TV- Hist fiction and essays are also classics and should be read by anyone who loves the English language. He also has a very good record when it comes to lawsuits-he doesn’t lose. I never even saw those “novels” (who with any taste would read a Star Trek novel anyway) but if they stole from what happens to be the best episode ever they deserve to pay. Also it’s time to lose that “enfant terrible” tag when it comes to talking about Ellison. That’s just lazy shorthand and hasn’t meant anything in 30 years.

    1. French term for a child who is terrifyingly candid by saying embarrassing things to adults, especially parents.


      I guess if it is in the contract, then sure. was he given credit in the novels?

  7. I watched that video, and usually I would not really support someone asking for money like this.

    But dang, I respect this guy for speaking the truth and being real.

    I hope this guy gets a million bucks or something, just because this guy is the man for how he puts the studios in their place with how they want everything for nothing, but always complain about not getting paid anything.

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