Twentieth Century Fox has always been overly protective of their intellectual property rights -- occasionally to the point of absurdity (Fox Legal must get paid by the Cease and Desist letter, it seems), but the latest move by the movie giant makes them seem meaner than Ebenezer Scrooge. THR reported that the studio has filed a $15 million dollar law suit against Patricia McIlvaine, a "struggling screenwriter who sells flowers over the phone by day and writes scripts by night." McIlvaine posted roughly 100 scripts on her personal website without authorization, but the big bad that Fox is peeved about is the script for the 'X-Men' sequel 'Deadpool' starring Ryan Reynolds -- scheduled for a 2012 release.

The gory details were posted on the following website by someone who appears to be one of Patricia's friends:

"Two strangers knocked on her door and informed her, in front of her children, 20th Century Fox was suing her for 15 million dollars. Two hours later, after grilling her with questions for two solid hours, they left her stunned and crying in her living room staring at a business card that stated they were "private investigators."

This was the first contact PJ had from 20th Century Fox regarding a Media Fire online script library she created - and was the day 20th Century Fox filed a law suit against PJ in federal court for fifteen million dollars."


There are a few ways to look at this situation. While McIlvaine posted copyrighted material without authorization (which is certainly not legal), she says she collected the scripts to create a free, online library to share with other screenwriters. This makes sense, as anyone who's written a script will tell you that part of learning how to write screenplays is to read dozens of scripts to get a feel for how they're structured. She's hardly the only website online to do something like this -- it's been going on for years. That may not be a good legal excuse for her actions, but suing her for $15 million hardly seems like a fitting punishment for her crime.

Her mistake -- or the problem that has Fox so worked up -- is posting a screenplay for something that hasn't been released yet. However, as McIlvaine points out, the script in question was already posted on bigger websites that made them widely available (including Gawker Media's io9). Why isn't Fox going after the big boys? Probably because they want to make an example out of the little people who don't have the money to fight back. It's kind of like Napster 2010. All we need now is the RIAA pulling grandma into court because her grandkids came over for a visit and downloaded Tupac while she wasn't looking.

In their statement Fox says, "They (leaked scripts) harm the fans who do not want their enjoyment of a movie or television show to be spoiled by knowing the story ahead of actually being able to watch it." It's a nice sentiment, but no one is forcing the fans to read leaked scripts. If you don't want to spoil a movie, don't read the script. No one's holding a gun to anyone's head. People can certainly read the script and decide they don't want to see the movie, which could potentially cost Fox money.

The thing is, no one except for die-hard fans, screenwriters, and people looking to purchase scripts are going to be reading these screenplays. Again, that doesn't make it right, but let's be realistic about the impact here. More people are likely to read script reviews of pre-release drafts on big movie websites versus actually downloading and reading 120 pages of screenplay on their own. And what about the flip side? There's always the chance people would read the script, love it, and wind up seeing a film they might have passed on otherwise

The oddest thing about this story is how Fox is looking past the elephant in the room. Uploaded scripts aren't hurting the bottom line in Hollywood -- movie piracy is. If you want to sue people for $15 million bucks, go after the guys who leaked 'X-Men Origins: Wolverine.' There's someone who cost Fox a great deal of money. Unfortunately, the studios are starting to look a lot like the RIAA -- a group of executives so far behind the technology curve that they're trying to stop something that appears to be largely unstoppable at this point (the downloading of movies) instead of trying to figure out a way to monetize it in this brave new world. Diverting attention to early drafts of screenplays on the Internet only makes them look that much more lost.

As film fans and people who work in the industry, we're not in favor of piracy of any kind -- but we're also not fans of over-the-top lawsuits designed to make an example out of the little guy while the big boys conduct business as usual. This feels very much like a case of that. What do you guys think? Is $15 million excessive? Should Fox even be worrying about screenplays when the majority of their library can be found on torrent sites? Is McIlvaine just a convenient scapegoat? Tell us what you think below.

When reached for comment, Patricia McIlvaine told Cinematical that she could not talk about the lawsuit until she retained legal councel.