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Gentlemen lands Fox in $100m lawsuit

Los Angeles, Sept. 26 (Reuters): A Hollywood producer and his screenwriter partner have sued 20th Century Fox, accusing it of stealing their idea for a team of Victorian-era superheroes to make the film The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

The copyright infringement suit, filed in US district court in Los Angeles, seeks at least $100 million in damages, about $34 million more than the film has grossed since it was relea-sed in July. The movie stars Sean Connery as the fictional adventurer Allan Quartermain, who leads an unlikely team of Victorian literary figures to form a league of 19th-century superheroes recruited by British intelligence to battle an evil madman, known as the Fantom.

Other characters include Captain Nemo (played by Naseeruddin Shah), vampiress Mina Harker, Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde, invisible man Rodney Skinner, the soulless Dorian Gray and Tom Sawyer (as a grownup Secret Service agent).

Fox, dismissing the allegations as “absurd nonsense”, says its film was based directly on the cartoon-illustrated “graphic novel” of the same name by comic book creator Alan Moore.

But the lawsuit claims Fox poached its idea from an unmade feature film project titled Cast of Characters and repackaged the story with many of the same characters to make The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

“The similarities between the two products are so striking that there’s no question that one has been taken from the other,” plaintiff’s lawyer Bijan Amini said.

The suit pits one of Hollywood’s leading studios, a unit of News Corp. Ltd, against Larry Cohen, the screenwriter behind last year’s Fox thriller Phone Booth, and veteran producer Martin Poll, whose credits include the 1968 classic The Lion in Winter and Woody Allen’s Love and Death.

According to the lawsuit, Poll and Cohen submitted several drafts of their Cast of Characters to Fox executives between 1993 and 1996, hoping to obtain financing and a distribution deal for the picture.

But the suit accuses Fox of developing the project under its own title, cutting Poll and Cohen out of the deal, and enlisting Moore to write a graphic novel based on their ideas as a “smokescreen” for the plagiarised movie script.

As evidence of the studio’s alleged wrongdoing, the suit says Fox claimed to have hired screenwriters to adapt Moore’s graphic novel in 1998, as reported in Daily Variety, though the novel itself was not completed until the following year.

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