A copyright complaint involving a movie script enthusiast site, Universal Studios, and Repo Man writer Alex Cox, has developed into a war of words. Following a DMCA takedown against a 3rd party that even Cox himself disputes, the writer has branded Universal a criminal enterprise that along with other studios operates an illegal blacklist as part of a price-fixing cartel.
Sheridan Cleland describes himself as an independent filmmaker with his own small production company. In addition to making music videos he also has a passion for hunting down and studying movie screenplays.
From its roots three years earlier, in 2009 Cleland created myPDFscripts, a platform which enabled him to share his passion with others. In recent months, however, things have not been easy. To cut a long story short, Cleland has been plagued with DMCA takedown requests from movie studios, one in particular.
November last year Cleland was forced to take down the site after Universal issued complaints against more than a hundred scripts. One of them, at position #69 on the list, was from the classic movie ‘Repo Man’. Interestingly, its creator Alex Cox contacted Cleland about the takedown directly.
“I believe you have received a ‘takedown’ notice from Universal to remove the script. I do not agree with this. I’m very pleased you have my script on your site and would like to see it remain. If you would like to add any other of my scripts, get in touch. You are welcome to post them,” Cox wrote.
But given the direct interest of a powerful company such as Universal, Cleland was concerned of the consequences should he simply repost the script. So he contacted the studio for clarification.
“Mr. Cox is the author of the Repo Man screenplay; however, his rights to and interests in the screenplay for the film were granted to Universal Pictures, which is the exclusive owner of Repo Man throughout the world in perpetuity, including, without limitation, all copyrights in the film and in the underlying screenplay,” the studio responded. “Accordingly, Universal stands by its request that you take-down the Repo Man screenplay from your website.”
So, if posting the actual script was off limits, maybe it would be OK for Cleland to post a link to the copy of the script that Alex Cox hosts on his own website? Apparently not.
“Please don’t post the links,” advised Universal. “I don’t believe Mr. Cox is authorized to post the script on his personal website either.”
“Universal are both right and wrong. Right because in many cases writers do cede all their rights to a purchaser, and lose them. Wrong because REPO MAN wasn’t a work for hire, and in three years time all rights to the script will revert to me under an obscure provision of US copyright law. This may be why they haven’t sent me a takedown notice: but it’s disgraceful that your site has been kneecapped in this way,” Alex told Cleland.
“Have you thought about transferring all the material to a server outside the US — in Brazil, perhaps? I know of others who have done this to keep valuable sites alive.”
But Cox doesn’t end there. After giving Cleland permission to post up every script he’s ever written (he’s already given everyone permission to download his films), he finishes up with an alarming broadside against the studios.
“The studios, including Universal, are pretty clearly a criminal enterprise, operating an illegal blacklist and functioning as a price-fixing cartel. They actually have legislation which permits them to operate as a cartel abroad (the law is called Webb-Pomerene) but absolutely no right to operate as a cartel domestically. They do so because they’re powerful and have politicians in their pockets,” Cox notes.
“If the cops ever went after them using the RICO statutes the whole studio cartel would collapse like a pack of cards, and individuals like their ‘litigation counsel’ would have to look for honest work. It’s unlikely that this will happen, but we can dream,” he concludes.
At the moment myPDFScripts is suffering a bit of a crisis after Mediafire blocked the site’s locker account so whether Repo Man and the other scripts will ever appear there remains to be seen.