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August 04 2010

Is SyFy's "Human Relations" really a "Drones" ripoff? Amber Benson and Adam Busch stop by The Wrap to personally delve into the curious situation they find themselves in with their indie film "Drones" and the previously-mentioned SyFy pilot. And over at Airlock Alpha, the creator of Human Relations puts forward his side of the story.

Seeing as this story has more legs than I thought and in the interest of neutralish coverage, I added another link to the entry.
Seeing as this story has more legs than I thought it should ...

There, fixed it for you Simon ;).

The primary link doesn't add information to the mix and right now, more information is what's really needed IMO. In the other link the creator behind 'Human Relations' says he's been developing it for 2 years based on an idea that's (to him) 15 years old and shopped it to Sci-Fi around the time the 'Drones' trailer was airing. If that's true (and we've absolutely no reason to assume otherwise) then to me this is just a case of coincidence and should go no further.

If the synopses are genuinely similar (i.e. Amber's existed previous to this story breaking rather than having been reworded to demonstrate the similarities - which is still ambiguous from this new post) or if Sci-Fi got involved with 'Human Relations' because they wanted something similar to 'Drones' but didn't want to pay for it then that's Sci-Fi's fault, not the creator of the show (though it's presumably him that's suffering most). Whatever, there're too many 'if's there to come down on either side right now.

And that aside, though I really understand Amber, Adam and the 'Drones' writers being angry about this, I just think if you're going (even implicitly) to accuse someone of plagiarism then you should make a supreme effort to get all the facts first. And then maybe not make your opening accusation in a public forum (really hope for instance that they've made some effort to talk to Scott Prendergast before all this, even though the Airlock Alpha article suggests otherwise).
I don't think so. Though both stories are similar, they both shair a common theme. In fact, I recall an "X-File" show based on the same story made during the mid nineties. So, I really don't think Amber's story was stolen. It has been used before.

With that said, it's still an excellent story line. "My boss is an alien!" I believe there's room for both to make a play on the approach. Besides, it will be a win-win situation for us!

EDIT to add. Saje, that "I don't think so" statement wasn't towards you, it was to the post in general :)

[ edited by Madhatter on 2010-08-04 12:13 ]
Have to say that I feel sorry for Prendergast in this. Unless there is really some good evidence, claims about plagiarism/theft of intellectual property are easily made and hard to defend against when there are only so many stories to tell. However, henceforth he may have a cloud of suspicion around him, and Syfy may decide to dump the property if they feel it has become 'toxic', whereas Amber & Adam get a publicity boost for their film. I don't know the 'truth' here; my point is that such accusations should be made when the aggrieved party has more than a synopsis blurb to go on.
Yeah I'm pretty surprised that anyone would make such a public accusation based on so little 'evidence'. Its not like its going to result in lost money surely, one is a tv show, one's a film.

If it's about 'art' then you can't say someone's ripped off your art unless you've seen the tv show or read the script because the art comes with the writing and directing part, not the actual concept.
EDIT to add. Saje, that "I don't think so" statement wasn't towards you, it was to the post in general :)

No worries 'Hatter ;).
Since something like this happened to me in print many years ago, I totally understand Amber and Adam's initial reaction. I'm still not sure I wasn't ripped off but I was finally convinced that similar ideas and discoveries do happen at the same time very frequently.
And digupherbones, if Syfy or someone chose to buy Drones with an eye to making it into a TV show, then yes, it is lost money. Because that won't happen now.
It's not as though the idea both hit upon is particularly original. Who hasn't thought at some point that his or her boss or administrators weren't aliens? OK, not literally, but I know I've said it about some long before 2008. And there were Twilight Zone episodes about aliens passing as people in the workplace, weren't there (the Martian bartender comes immediately to mind). Not to mention V.

I can see both camps trying to capitalize on the popularity of The Office by developing this idea. I don't think there has to be plagiarism involved. And when the story was first published here I thought it was in poor professional taste for Amber and Adam to go public with this accusation before doing a bit of calling around, first. I can understand their reaction, don't get me wrong, but to post the accusation so publicly without getting the facts first seems to hurt their case.
I haven't seen the two works in question, but with the sheer struggle it must be to get your indie film produced and distributed, I can understand Amber and Adam being intensely protective of it. I would be. And Amber Benson gets my benefit of the doubt just for being Amber Benson.

The good news is, no press is bad press, and this has made me determined to see Drones. I don't suppose it's available on DVD or anything yet?
Boy, the comments left by posters to the first article would curdle your hair. Not very nice to Amber at all.
I have no problem what so ever in believing that two projects could have the same creative core. Aliens represent "that which we don't understand in our fellow human beings" in our current cultural lexicon. And why would these two projects occur now? Well, given how popular "The Office" has been in its various incarnations since 2001, what network wouldn't want to try and tap into some of that magic? Amber and Adam don't own the basic idea. And office + aliens? It's a really obvious connection...

i.e.--"I work in an office. My boss/co-workers seem really weird. I think they have ulterior motives. The workers seem to be doing something other than their jobs..." etc...

Aliens have been invading Earth since Wells wrote "War of the Worlds" in 1898. I'm not seeing anything really new here. So I'm hoping there's more real...facts behind the allegation and the instigated kerfuffle than a short press release and a trailer premier. (I doubt that the development department and the the department responsible for airing the trailer are the same.) Somehow "We Googled and asked around" (my summary) isn't very convincing in proving the lack of other projects in development by other creators. I don't talk about my own projects on line. At least, not yet. ;)

Someone just published a novel whose plot and characters summarized could be almost word for word the novel that I am revising right now. I've never heard of the author or his story. I've been working on and off on my novel for two and a half years. And I know it's just a coincidence of the zeitgeist... (Heh. *waves to Zeitgeist*)
Who hasn't thought at some point that his or her boss or administrators weren't aliens?

Abso-frikkin'-lutely !

OK, not literally...

Oh.
By the same token, don't be so hard on Amber as well. I can understand why she got upset. I think it's good that Prendergast is reaching out trying to settle the matter. Again, I'm thinking this is a case of two great minds thinking alike.

By the way, my boss is a great guy and not an alien. At least, I think so...
Woah. This is really silly. Feel terrible for Prendergast.
Well, I'm glad that's settled. It is settled now, right?
Except in this paragraph he essentially calls Amber a liar:

"I wonder if Amber wrote that synopsis of her movie -- based on the synopsis of my show -- just so that she could cry foul," Prendergast said. "Maybe she saw a similarity -- she drew a connection because apparently her trailer was on Syfy.com -- and perhaps she just made everything a little bit clearer with her word choice."

How is that all right?

Amber reacted passionately, because that's how she feels about her work. (And how, imo, any good artist should be in regards to their work.) Yes, she should have taken some time to "calm down" a bit before posting her thoughts in her blog - everyone's made that mistake at one time or another (or often), but that doesn't automatically make her the bad guy here. She had no way of knowing how long "Human Relations" has been in development. All she knew was that the trailer for the movie she & Adam made was shown on SyFy, and then all of a sudden here's a TV show seeming very much like their project.

What's that line? "I didn't jump. I took a tiny step and there conclusions were."
Without going back & re-reading it, I think calling Amber's blogpost an "accusation" is a bit strong, but i won't argue too much. She was postiing the equivalent of a reaction shot. Plus I "seem to remember" she was more mad at the entwork than the other show creators. And I'll probably have eg on my face after I *do* go back to it.

This does seem like an obvious idea, so on the creative side I'm sure it's just the classic "infinite monkeys" situation. Business side is more complex and not my field of expertise.
Except in this paragraph he essentially calls Amber a liar:

"I wonder if Amber wrote that synopsis of her movie -- based on the synopsis of my show -- just so that she could cry foul," Prendergast said. "Maybe she saw a similarity -- she drew a connection because apparently her trailer was on Syfy.com -- and perhaps she just made everything a little bit clearer with her word choice."


Err, firstly he said that AFTER she posted her initial blog entry (which implies that he's maybe a plagiarist - how is that alright ?) and secondly, how exactly is he calling her a liar (essentially or otherwise) when she hasn't actually said anywhere that that synopsis hasn't been reworded to more clearly highlight the similarities ? Maybe she did, at the moment we don't know (and neither does he, hence the 'maybe'). And presumably it doesn't need pointing out that it's apparently OK for Amber to say things out of "passion" but not for this Prendergast guy to do the same. Bit of a double standard surely ? Why not for now, without knowing the full story, try to be fair to both sides.

She had no way of knowing how long "Human Relations" has been in development. All she knew was that the trailer for the movie she & Adam made was shown on SyFy, and then all of a sudden here's a TV show seeming very much like their project.

Which is why (IMO) she should've waited before in any way implying a fellow writer is a plagiarist on a public forum. Not knowing the facts isn't an excuse for saying anything you feel like saying, neither is being passionate.

That said, ultimately, so what ? She spoke too soon, acted from her heart, made a mistake, categorical proof that she's a human being. Stop the press. As things currently stand this is a nothing story with inconclusive evidence either way that's in danger of becoming something unpleasant for all concerned.
Whatever about the topic. I just have issue with one group calling the other a liar, then lying immediately. The Airlock Alpha article claims foul on the internet being the age of misinformation, then claims that Amber Bensons synopsis is nowhere to be found on the internet prior to her blog post.

Well 1/17/10: http://geekblips.dailyradar.com/story/drones-the-office-meets-day-the-earth-stood-still/
The issue about Amber and Adam's synopsis arises because prior to her original blog post the other day, that particular synopsis doesn't appear anywhere via Google. So the question raised as to whether it's a new synopsis written to highlight the similarities is a valid one. When A&A refer to "the synopsis" it sounds like, well, the synopsis as if they pulled out the old press kit and cut and pasted it. If we're to believe Google, this isn't the case.
Yeah, been talking about this with the author of the Airlock Alpha piece in another thread (from here). That single line is some evidence that something like that synopsis was floating about from January this year but unfortunately we can't find the whole thing (doesn't mean it's not out there - absence of evidence is not evidence of absence and so on - but it does mean that as things stand we can't in any way assume it's a preexisting synopsis without something more concrete either way).

And in fairness to Amber she never once (that I know of) says "Here is our original synopsis". Whether it's implied to be is up to the individual reader.


ETA: In fact, following a link from the link prettygoodkid supplies, we have this press release which includes a synopsis. Which is pretty dissimilar to the one Amber uses for comparison. Still not conclusive but y'know ...

(that Scifiwire article may even be where "The Office meets The Day the Earth Stood Still" originated)

[ edited by Saje on 2010-08-04 19:53 ]
The Human Relations guy didn't exactly take the high road either. He could have phoned up Amber and talked to her, and they could have issued a joint statement. (She could have done so too, but, she didn't, so it was up to him -- and he failed.)
True, neither side comes out smelling of roses, none of this should be happening in the public eye IMO. He compounds Amber's initial mistake though, responds to a situation rather than creating one i.e. without her public allegations I doubt we'd have his public response.

(and did he even contact Airlock Alpha or did they get in touch with him for a response ?)
will.bueche, he did try and contact her (he sent three public tweets to her including this one)

After I saw that on Sunday I was hopeful the business could be sorted privately but sadly it has not.
Wow, why does Whedonesque get the best posters ever? :)

I have to disagree with a few points (and clarify a few others), however.

First, because we are journalists, we did reach out to Prendergast for comment, and he responded. We updated the initial story we wrote with part of his response, and then wrote an entirely second story to follow-up.

Secondly, how is it that Prendergast was wrong for responding to accusations? I'm sorry, but if someone accused you of theft publicly, would you then go and reach out to them behind the scenes and try to work it out? Or would you jump into the public arena right away and try to salvage your name?

I'm not a lawyer, but if Syfy decides to take a pass at "Human Relations" for ANY reason (which does happen, by the way), and Prendergast can make even the smallest connection between that pass and Amber Benson's statements, I hate to say this, but he might have a strong libel suit on his hands. Especially if he can prove that Amber Benson's remarks were false.

I just don't understand why Amber Benson is taking this route. We know for sure that she is aware of Prendergast's statements (I tweeted the story to her, and she even followed me a short time later). We reached out to her for a response, but she chose not to do it. Instead, she wrote a similar piece for "The Wrap," complaining she is a Hollywood nobody (a Hollywood nobody, by the way, who can get a column on The Wrap -- I felt that was a bit disingenuous).

It's not up to Prendergast to reach out quietly to Amber Benson and make some "joint statement," I'm sorry. There is such a thing called looking before you leaped, and in this case, Amber Benson definitely leaped before seeing how far down off the cliff she would go.

As far as I can tell, in the brief conversation I was allowed to have with Prendergast, he was telling the truth.

I can tell you that he handled accusations of plagiarism far better than I would. Far better. :)

[ edited by AlphaMichael on 2010-08-04 22:04 ]
I can tell you that he handled accusations of plagiarism far better than I would. Far better.

That is exactly the same as one of my posts above apart from a few details and the words. Lawyerbots, attack !

;-)

...he did try and contact her (he sent three public tweets to her including this one)

That puts things in quite a different light. Can't tell when the The Wrap piece went up (pet peeve #2864: articles online with no time and date) but it surely has to be after 9:20 pm on Saturday night right ? Seems like he made an attempt to sort it out in a sane, adult manner but apparently to no avail (OR they got in touch and didn't see eye to eye).

Sad to say, the more that comes out about this the harder it is to defend (or even understand) Amber's position. Ah well.

I'm sorry, but if someone accused you of theft publicly, would you then go and reach out to them behind the scenes and try to work it out? Or would you jump into the public arena right away and try to salvage your name?

No-one accused anyone of theft - implications and musings don't amount to an accusation, let's not go overboard in the other direction (and certainly legally i'd say both her posts are fairly defensible since she says, roughly, "I don't know any wrong-doing has occurred" in both. IANAL either though ;). And yeah I really do think going behind the scenes to try to work it out in private then issuing a joint statement with apologies etc. from the appropriate side and positive publicity for all concerned is preferable to getting involved in some protracted, public, possibly litigious online feud with implications and/or accusations flying back and forth. It's not only the ideal solution IMO, it's also apparently what he actually tried to do so good for him (i'm not at all sure I would've had the character to do the same).
Another post from Amber's blog with more info ("The Office meets The Day the Earth Stood Still" is indeed from Scifiwire, not Amber). Have to say, I really wish she'd stop saying stuff like "Look, I don't think, nor did I say, Scott Prendergast 'ripped me off'." and then talk about "strange 'coincidences'" of timing, plot etc. If she doesn't think he ripped her (or presumably the writers) off then why imply it and more to the point, what are we even talking about ?

"We've never seen the Human Relations script and they've only released three lines about the show, all of which mirror lines from the synopsis of DRONES at Sci-Fi Wire or from the trailer of DRONES, itself."

Here's the synopsis of 'Drones' at Scifiwire (full link again, as above):
DRONES SYNOPSIS:

Brian Dilks is an Office Drone. He spends his days at OmniLink in comforting monotony: facilitating the movement of product around the country, faxing, copying, joking with his best friend, Clark, and harmlessly flirting with fellow cubicle-mate, Amy.

But how well does anyone really know the people they work with?

When Brian discovers an improbable secret about his best friend, everything in Brian's world changes and his safe life of workplace detachment is no longer an option.

Shocked out of his mind-numbing routine by this new discovery, Brian throws himself into a star-crossed romance with Amy--yet close encounters of the office kind, like sales or intergalactic war, is an uncertain business.


Here're the three lines about 'Human Relations' (from the previous announcement):
HUMAN RELATIONS

The Office meets Men in Black in this project featuring an office Temp who slowly discovers that his off-kilter and odd-ball bosses at the strange hi-tech “ad agency” where he works are really aliens working on a plan to destroy the Earth.


Which lines are mirrored in the Scifiwire 'Drones' synopsis ?


"Scott says, "My show has been in development since August of 2008..."

Which is kind of odd, seeing as the DRONES script was written in May of 2008 – two months before Scott started writing his script for Human Relations."


See those ellipses ? They partly stand in for:

"In fact, my show is based on a script I wrote in 1995, based on a job I had in Chicago in 1995-96."

Kind of puts the first part (and Amber's response) in a different light no ? You might say it's a "strange coincidence" that of an entire quoted paragraph she happened to NOT quote the one part that contradicts her thesis. Not really on.

I can just ask you to look at the two synopses - mine was culled from our treatment, a few lines come directly from the movie ... from reviews (right here you can check out: Brian, the regular office worker, who discovers the people he works with are aliens...) and from SyFy directly (they coined the phrase "The Office" meets "The Day The Earth Stood Still", not me) and you make the call. Scott accused us of making up what was in our synopsis. That is inaccurate, it's all their online for you to go and see. Just follow the links. They've all be online since January 2010.

He actually said:

"I wonder if Amber wrote that synopsis of her movie -- based on the synopsis of my show -- just so that she could cry foul," Prendergast said. "Maybe she saw a similarity -- she drew a connection because apparently her trailer was on Syfy.com -- and perhaps she just made everything a little bit clearer with her word choice."

And given that short synopsis is crafted (presumably by Amber) from parts of a Scifiwire article, a treatment that doesn't seem to be online, the film's dialogue, the gist of a review (not word for word quotes in any instance that I can see) then surely what Prendergast is saying is actually pretty much exactly what happened i.e. she took parts from several sources and in some cases reworded or re-ordered them based on the 'Human Relations' synopsis to better make her case ? The only part that I can find online word for word from any links dating to January 2010 ("The Office meets The Day the Earth Stood Still") turns out, by her own admission, not to have been written by anyone involved with the production of 'Drones'.

This whole thing is starting to leave a bad taste.

[ edited by Saje on 2010-08-05 00:13 ]
It would be better if she (and Adam) put out a gracious retraction (+/- apology) at this point; the sense I get is that they are simply digging a bigger hole. You certainly have to wonder how this might affect decisions to work with them on future projects (if they were so willing to cast aspersions for this, what about....). And there is no way to read what they put out there initially as NOT suggesting there was theft/skullduggery. There are hundreds of talented writers/directors in the US; why work with 'difficult' ones unless they bring something truly exceptional? I know that doesn't explain Lindsey Lohan, but...
Yeah, I'm coming around quickly to the belief that Amber reacted too quickly and emotionally--understandably so, but still--and that Prendergast is the unfortunate and innocent victim of it.
Yeah, let's not get to the point of legal action here. If she's really not accusing him of anything, then the issue needs to be dropped.
Her new blog post is more of same, however. I was thinking, lady, I love your work, but this is not winnable and you need to stop publicly posting your unhappiness and justifications. She delves into more coincidences about the timing and comments Prendergast claimed. My fear is that this will end up in legal action if they all don't stop.
Just wanted to let you all know that Amber Benson called last night, and we posted a new story (some of it mirroring a bit her new blog post) ... but with more emphasis on blaming Syfy, not Scott Prendergast (not sure if that's really helping, to be honest):

click here
Ow. That might actually be more accurate (and mirrors my own fanboy commentary so it appeals to the egotist of me) but yeah, I don't see (absent reading the article, just going by AlphaMichael's post) how this will boost her stock amongst future employers. Perhaps she feels she already has a "rep" as a maverick who doesn't fit into the system-as-given and she sees this as image enhancement or the like and I need to remember I only have a Bachelor's in psych and shut up.

ETA Just read it and re-"Ow" with a "!" added. I mean, I'm in her cheering squad but . . . .

I *am* reminded of the fuss George Lucas (and some of the critics aligned with him) put up when the original Battlesatr Galactica aired; don't recall if that led to a suit or not. I mean, he was right in one sense, Star Wars had increased the saleability of sci-fi greatly and the show probably wouldn't've sold before that. And there were soem simialrites in the mystic angle and soem superficial resemblances in the bad guys and tech.
But the plots were nothing alike and the backstories bore little resemblance one to another. My comments at the time were "Does Lucas think he copyrighted the word 'galaxy'?"

[ edited by DaddyCatALSO on 2010-08-05 15:29 ]
(not sure if that's really helping, to be honest)

No, at this point I don't think it is. Her second blog post implies various things about what Prendergast personally claims re: dates etc. - if that's not directed at him then what is ? By her account he's at best the unwitting dupe of Sci-Fi (who presumably "tweaked" the script so that it went from not being set in an office and not featuring alien co-workers or the impending destruction of the Earth to doing so since those are the guts of both synopses). And i'm not at all surprised he's stopped commenting on it (it's indicative of either character or legal advice. Or possibly both).

Too little too late and it shouldn't even be necessary in the first place since this should've been handled differently from the start IMO. It's been like watching a train-wreck - her initial post is relatively harmless but could be read as implying plagiarism, his response escalates the situation (although it's starting to seem likely that he didn't actually make any claims that aren't true), then her response to that escalates etc. Textbook internet basically, the only difference being Prendergast seems to have at least tried to get in touch on Saturday night to straighten things out before it all blew up, either after the first Airlock Alpha article (maybe because he regretted his accusatory stance) or just before it, after Amber's initial blog post.

Silly humans.
And i'm not at all surprised he's stopped commenting on it (it's indicative of either character or legal advice. Or possibly both).

Yep, sounds like he lawyered up. She should do the same. Probably should have done so earlier, then they may have told her to stop writing ill-advised blogs.
Also recalling, they talk about Irish and Italian and Hispanic people having tempers but I'm just recalling what my dad (who,a dmittedly, had a lot of nasty rpejudices) telling me about his expereience with Southern tempers during his Army days and recalling Amber was raised in Birmingham....

I hate to think she's maybe-perhaps finally going to get mentioned in People and the tabloids for this after years of being under the radar. Sorry, logically I always knew my goddess, like any human being, had feet of clay, but I hate seeing them being broken into miry shards in public.

ETA: So very not my place but I posted to her blog suggesting she "pull it way back."

[ edited by DaddyCatALSO on 2010-08-05 20:39 ]

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