Once upon a time, I was convinced that one of my movie treatments -- The Bomb Family, about a family that hunkers down in a fall-out shelter bunker and is found years later to be way out of step with the current times -- was ripped off for the movie Blast from the Past (1999) starring Brendan Fraser. The thing that was most disturbing about the whole thing was that I'd pitched my idea to an old acquaintance of mine from my William Morris days who I knew from L.A. He was then one of the development folks at the same boutique studio that produced Blast. I had a detailed treatment and was certain he'd "greenlight" this amazing project once he convinced his colleagues they should option it. I could then start writing the script and the rest would be history. But alas, it never materialized, until it materialized a few years later with a different title and a slightly different story; oh, such a very slight difference.
When I talked to my lawyer about it, he said that without a "proper" paper trail it would virtually impossible to prove and that a lawsuit would not be a very wise decision unless I had witnesses and a boatload of cash to pay out for the legal fees, etc. Not having the financial depth required, I let my anger dissipate over the years, promising myself I would never pitch another project unless I had my back covered; and my front and my top.
In the case of Steely Dan v. You, Me and Dupree, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker not only have a legitimate beef but some serious weight behind them. Now, it may take some real legal muscle to convince a jury that their song "Cousin Dupree" and lyrics inspired this insipid little comedy, but I suspect it will be settled before it ever reaches the jury phase. The fact remains that this kind of shit happens in the movie business all the time. People are always crawling out from underneath their shells to sue development people, ex-partners, or former friends claiming they spawned the idea that ultimately made someone other themselves a huge success and left them holding the door.
But enough hyperbole, check out the Becker and Fagen letter to Mr. Owen Wilson's brother Luke that's posted on Steely Dan's website and see how justice is served on the Web. This is one of the best public floggings I've read in some time and well worth the effort.
Below are their lyrics from the song in question, "Cousin Dupree" from Steely Dan's long player Two Against Nature:
It'll be really interesting to see how things shake out on this one, but in the interim enjoy the drama. It's a silly little diversion from our chaotic world.
Mr. Wright is the former editor-in-chief of Creem and Prince's New Power Generation magazines as well as a writer of films, fiction, and music. He is also a singer/songwriter who has released 3 solo CDs and a member of the folk-rock quartet GIANTfingers. And before all of this he was an agent at the William Morris Agency!