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Harlan Ellison Sues Paramount – Alleges Unpaid Merchandising Royalties

Harlan Ellison has filed a lawsuit over what he claims are unpaid residuals stemming from his classic Star Trek episode “City on the Edge of Forever”. The episode is often ranked among the top episodes in Star Trek history, and Ellison, according to a press release, “wants every penny of his long ago agreed-upon share of the revenue from Paramount’s relentless Trek exploitations.”

Ellison wants in on the merchandising
Ellison has, for years, been vocal about what he believes to be the uncompensated use of elements of the “City” teleplay including the Guardian of Forever, Edith Keeler, and the setting of the episode. While his claims are not new, they took on a decidedly sharper tone in 2006 when Pocket Books released the "Crucible" trilogy. Written by David R. George III, the trilogy was, in many respects, worked around the premise of “City on the Edge of Forever”, though it told an ever-expanding storyline that surrounded McCoy, Spock, and Kirk. When that particular watershed broke, Ellison wrote on his website, “If they play nice and tug their forelock and acknowledge where the material came from and pay me a trailer-truck full of cash, I will not sue them in Federal District Court…”


Crucible Trilogy part of Ellison’s suit against Paramount and CBS/Simon & Schuster

The increasing array of marketing that accompanies Star Trek including Christmas ornaments and DVD sets are also now now drawing the writer’s ire. Ellison claims that CBS and Paramount have gone silent, refusing to disclose sales figures on items derived from his work. According to his representative, John H. Carmichael, “Mr. Ellison wants every penny of his long ago agreed-upon share of the revenue from Paramount’s relentless Trek exploitations…” Earlier in the year after preliminary hearings were held regarding Ellison’s complaint TrekMovie contacted CBS and Simon & Schuster – both had no comment.


2004 Hallmark Guardian ornament noted in Ellison Lawsuit

Ellison: Pay Me!
The outspoken Ellison makes it clear in the release that he has one agenda with this suit, to get paid. The release quotes Ellison in part:

And please make sure to remember, at the moment some Studio mouthpiece calls me a mooch, and says I’m only pursuing this legal retribution to get into their ‘deep pockets,’ tell’m Ellison snarled back, ‘F- – – -in’-A damn skippy!’ I’m no hypocrite. It ain’t about the ‘principle,’ friend, its about the MONEY! Pay Me! Am I doing this for other writers, for Mom (still dead), and apple pie? Hell no! I’m doing it for the 35-year-long disrespect and the money!

Ellison’s release also points to “Pay the Writer” video clip on YouTube, from the documentary “Dreams With Sharp Teeth”, which exemplifies Ellison’s feelings towards getting properly compensated.

Also named as a defendant in the March 13th filing is the Writers Guild of America, who, Ellison’s representatives claim, have failed to act on Ellison’s behalf after numerous requests. The case has been filed in the Central District of California, and is awaiting a hearing date.

More on Harlan Ellison and his suit at HarlanEllison.com
 

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Steven
March 15, 2009 6:57 pm

He created the character, he should get royalties. Period.

Dare I say it, first?

rm10019
March 15, 2009 7:01 pm

The really need to pay him what is due, by law.

Hat Rick
March 15, 2009 7:02 pm

Good article!

I’m not all that delighted to see litigation connected with Trek. I hope that the parties reach an amicable resolution.

darrksan
March 15, 2009 7:03 pm

Good for Harlan!

Gravitic Yours
March 15, 2009 7:03 pm

Writers get no respect. At least pay them what they are due, particularly when they are — dare I say — great ones like Mr. Ellison.

TonyD
March 15, 2009 7:05 pm

Sure took him long enough to actually file this lawsuit. He’s been bitter about Paramount in general and Trek in particular for decades and I’m curious why he has now decided to move forward with this. I’d love to see a copy of the contract Ellison signed when he wrote City. I’m sure its a standard document and would probably be a good first step in figuring out just what he’s entitled to.

Ron
March 15, 2009 7:06 pm

How sad to see such talent going to complete waste like this. One wishes that those who know and love him and have his ear would steer him toward more constructive pursuits instead of constantly rehashing this long-gone slight against his ample pride.

Brett Campbell
March 15, 2009 7:06 pm

Too bad he hates the episode. It is the best ever.

Paul-Fitz
March 15, 2009 7:07 pm

Seems only fair for the guy to get his dues. But part of me thinks, he got paid allready, If I create a website for someone, and it makes them money, I could not expect to get more money off of them in the future for my creation.
He got paid, and that in my opinion is that. . .
(I’m sounding millitant, and do not mean to. Just an opinion, if anyone can change it, please do)
;)

Nicholas
March 15, 2009 7:07 pm

It’s sad that the only way his greedy mouth will shut is when he’s dead. Sad because he is such a talented guy.

JR1701
March 15, 2009 7:08 pm

While Ellison is most definitely owed something for his work, his attitude and crassness are off-putting. Frankly, He doesn’t own his own work in this case (though he does have some claims on it) and he over-estimates the value of his contribution to Trek-lore.

Enterprise
March 15, 2009 7:09 pm

Oh, is this the same guy that whined when his crappy script was changed?

Spotts1701
March 15, 2009 7:10 pm

But the thing is that Ellison’s drafts were practically unusable, and he was so dissatisfied with the rewrites made by most of the TOS writing team that he wanted his name off of the finished product.

I mean, it really comes down to the classic issue of “How much of the final product is Ellison’s work, and how much isn’t?”

March 15, 2009 7:11 pm

GOOD GUYS WIN, BAD GUYS LOSE, AND AS ALWAYS ELLISON PREVAILS!

Brad
March 15, 2009 7:11 pm

He sounds like a whiney bitch to me! But, to his credit, I’m not a writer by profession, so I don’t know what writers are and arren’t entitled to be paid for, or what this whole thing is over. Looks like maybe we’ll get another writer’s strike? Yay!

RobertZ
March 15, 2009 7:12 pm

I like Harlan Ellison a lot.
However, if one has a copy of INSIDE STAR TREK by Herbert F. Solow and Robert H. Justman, please read chapter 18.

Ensign RedShirt
March 15, 2009 7:13 pm

He’s a great, great writer, but does he really have ground to stand on? If he signed the standard “work for hire” contract per WGA rules back in ’66, I doubt he has any ground to stand on. Of course, if he did sign a contract which gave him “ownership”, then this is an open and shut case.

How many times has he sued Paramount? Seems like this has happened before.

Decker Unit
March 15, 2009 7:14 pm

Ellison & Paramount really need to get this worked out & put to rest once & for all. They really don’t need this kind of publicity for the upcoming movie.

I for one would love to see “City on the Edge of Forever” filmed the way Ellison originally envisioned it. Maybe the “Phase 2” crew would give it a go.

T Drake
March 15, 2009 7:15 pm

He’s said many times it was drastically altered …isn’t anything like he wrote… and NOW… He sues.

March 15, 2009 7:18 pm

Work for hire contracts usually don’t allow for this type of post-facto compensation. Ellison took the characters created and developed by dozens of other people (Roddenberry, Coon, other writers, the actors, etc.) and made a derivative work in his own teleplay as well. To allow him any money beyond what he’s received up until this point will set a precedent that will open up numerous similar lawsuits by other writers for other programs.

Does Gene Coon’s estate have an equal right to claim royalties from his work on “Space Seed” and the character of Khan Noonien Singh? Of course not. It took decades for Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster to get their ownership of Superman, and the facts of their case were much more favorable (that team invented Superman outright, Ellison wrote a story based on existing characters primarily). I don’t begrudge Ellison making an effort to get money, but unless he had paper from Desilu/Paramount saying he had some right to future earnings (which he probably doesn’t), then he’s not going to get far.

dalek
March 15, 2009 7:18 pm

Didn’t Roddenberry have to drastically rewrite the episode cos Ellison had Scotty as a 23rd century drug addict?

In any case, Paramounts a multi-billion dollar Trek money making machine and Ellison deserves his cut from merchandising of arguably the best episode of the series.

Paramount did something similar with Nimoy I believe, which was the main reason he wouldn’t return for Phase 2.

March 15, 2009 7:19 pm

Part of me thinks he deserves it as anyone would for work completed, etc., and another part says, “He just figured this out now?” Ellison is notoriously known to put down what they did to his script and then take credit for any praise (and payment I suppose) for the episode.

Again, I think he’s right but I’m not a fan of how he goes about it.

AD

March 15, 2009 7:20 pm

The man has plenty of money – This is all just his ego and nothing more. I agree with his principal, but the more he whines about money, the less I really care about his royalties.

Captain Presley
March 15, 2009 7:20 pm

Does William Ware Theiss get paid because Hallmark shows his costume designs on their ornaments? Does the set designer for “City On The Edge Of Forever” get paid for their designs being rendered on the ornament?

Ellison was paid to do a job 43 years ago. Job done. Got paid. Get over it.

dalek
March 15, 2009 7:21 pm

#22 I know what you mean, but you got to admire his balls. One lone writer Vs a multi-billion dollar corporation. He has balls of steel.

Steve J.
March 15, 2009 7:21 pm

How will this affect the “Of Gods and Men” production and the “Star Trek New Voyages” episode which featured the Guardian of Forever?

dalek
March 15, 2009 7:22 pm

#26 not at all. Neither productions earnt any money. There is not cut for Ellison to have.

March 15, 2009 7:23 pm

I’ll be curious to see how this resolves. Heck, Nimoy’s lawsuit over royalties didn’t get resolved until they wanted him back for the films and he had that leverage.

The Gorn Identity
March 15, 2009 7:24 pm

Ellison is growing angrier and more bitter as every year passes. The dude just needs to relax.

AJ
March 15, 2009 7:25 pm

Best to ignore all the vitriol and gnashing of teeth, and enjoy a great Trek ep.

March 15, 2009 7:25 pm

Sadly, this has the looks of a shakedown lawsuit- where Ellison is making a large amount of noise hoping public opinion among the fanbase will prompt CBS/Par to cut him a check and shut him up. His pattern indicates two-dimensional thinking…

March 15, 2009 7:30 pm

Hmm. I remember when Artisan did the DVDs for Rambo, the Ultimate Edition, they compared Sylvester Stallone to Arnold Schwarzenegger.

When Artisan released “Total Recall”, Arnold was paid something around $70,000 for his participation in doing a commentary track, and Stallone did his for “First Blood” for nothing. I’ve listened to both commentaries and let me tell you, Stallone defines what makes a commentary track good.

The way I see it, there are two types of talent. One that only does work for money (respectable of course), and the other who wants to do it so he can do it. The way he calls some writers ‘amateurs’ when they do work for nothing I think is disingenuous. I know writers who love to talk about their works just for the sake of talking about it. Not because it’s a money making scheme, but because it’s something they believe in and want to talk about.

I also don’t like his attitude that he thinks the studio should just send him a DVD copy. Remember how he kept on bringing up people who get paid? Well, what about the programmers doing the DVD menus, editors putting together the special features, sound designers working on the sound mixes and video technicians making sure the video source looks great? God forbid he ever pay to support their work.

OneBuckFilms
March 15, 2009 7:32 pm

I’m not a lawyer, but I have to admire the honesty of a man who says openly he’s in it for the money, and not some artistic or exposure reasons.

The Gorn Identity
March 15, 2009 7:33 pm

So, if you write an episode for a TV show (a show you didn’t create) does it mean you retain rights to and royalties to any characters and concepts for said episode?

I don’t see how. I’m sure Ellison was contracted and paid to WRITE an episode, not take ownership of it. I wish Gene Roddenberry was still alive. He’d chew Ellison up in true Roddenberry fashion.

March 15, 2009 7:34 pm

I love Harlan Ellison. God bless the old coot, and f— Paramount. LOL

Izbot
March 15, 2009 7:35 pm

Never one to mince words…

JimJ
March 15, 2009 7:41 pm

Let’s see, Gerrold needs to get paid every time a tribble appears everywhere, then….and so on. I think Harlan must be hardup for money. Probably reeling in this wonderful economy and needs to buy gas for his boat. Frankly, this lawsuit is pointless and is all about someone stepping on his ego because they did a typical rewrite to make it work for a TV show. Let’s see, I’m 42 years old…and so is Harlan’s gradge. Geez, gads, man……get over it, already!

March 15, 2009 7:41 pm

#35, Your sentiments aside, do you think his claim has real legal merit? Do you think a Federal District judge will really open up this can of worms for thousands of writers to claim similar rights? I’m no fan of Paramount (CBS/Viacom/Conglomerate Corp.) but in this case, have they done anything differently than other studios?

Liz
March 15, 2009 7:49 pm

He comes across as a real pain in the ass. I have no idea regarding the merits of the lawsuit. “City” was a great episode.

JimJ
March 15, 2009 7:51 pm

Make that the word “grudge” on #37….either way, it’s still pathetic!

Justin Olson
March 15, 2009 7:53 pm

Ellison deserves 25% of all sales that contain his “City” characters and plot. When I buy Season One on Blu-ray for $80 on April 28th, that means he should get his $.68 from Paramount/CBS.

80 dollars / 29 episodes = $2.75
$2.75 / 4 = $.68

THX-1138-Star Trek: Timmy!
March 15, 2009 7:54 pm

Dennis, all that lovey stuff aside and Paramount hate, do you think Harlan Ellison has any right to any further compensation? Obviously nobody here is privy to the exact details of the original contract signed, but I bet it’s not dissimilar to the recording contracts I signed when I play on someone’s CD or TV recording. Basically, I got paid for the session. If the CD or TV show goes on to make a jillion dollars I am not owed anything else. I knew that going in. And I have played on some recordings that ended up doing pretty well.

If I wanted a bigger slice of the pie, I should record my own stuff that makes the huge bucks. And maybe Harlan Ellison should create and produce his own TV show.

JeFF
March 15, 2009 7:56 pm

In all the years I can remember, this miserable old b*tch has been whining and contributed nothing but an endless spew of complaints; making feeble (VERY feeble) attempts to cash in on Trek.

He must be silenced. Give him the $20 he deserves and may he shut up forever. The notion of seeing his face again makes me sick.

March 15, 2009 7:57 pm

#38: As a non-lawyer without a thorough familiarity with the specific facts in the case my opinion of its merits would be a poor one.

What I know, as a matter of record, is that Ellison has brought such quixotic suits in the past and has been somewhat successful, and also that long-shot lawsuit from “little guys” challenging the business practices of the studios have occasionally surprised everyone by succeeding – see Buchwald v. Paramount (1990). So I’ll watch the progress of this one with interest.

Gojira Shippi-Taro
March 15, 2009 7:59 pm

Harlan Ellison is a very little man who has a far larger image of himself than reality reflects.

Every single thing he has written apart from City is complete self-masturbatory crap. It’s some of the most impenetrable SF ever written, simply because Harlan thinks he’s a smart guy.

He didn’t want to have his name associated with City because it didn’t match his image of whatever he thought it should have been (hint, moron, blatant drug use was never going to get on network TV in the late 60’s. Blatant drug use wasn’t going to get in Trek even if the networks would have OKed it.)

Harlan is a very very little man.

His opinion has never mattered before, and it does not matter now.

fansince9
March 15, 2009 8:00 pm

I believe Ellison knows the next film will probably do well and increase Paramount’s earnings. He just wants in on the cash flow, and that just sounds like a bitter old man, to me. It doesn’t seem to be doing him any favors, either.

March 15, 2009 8:02 pm

Anthony,

Be careful about publishing photos from the episode, he might sue you and want paid!

March 15, 2009 8:03 pm

Right pay the man, cause I don’t want to hear him talk about it any gods damn more.

March 15, 2009 8:03 pm

He was paid for his script, should have been “end of story.”

Enterprise
March 15, 2009 8:04 pm

I guess this must mean the new Trek movie is gonna be huge

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