On the eve of the second season premiere of the hit cult science-fiction show Orphan Black, producers have received some troubling news. The drama series centers around Sarah Manning, a young orphan who discovers that she is part of a line of genetically engineered human clones who are being hunted by a mysterious enemy. She and her new sisters must work together to discover their true origins and find out who is hunting them. It turns out that clones may not just be in the fictional world of the television show; a man is claiming that Orphan Black itself is really a clone of his stolen idea.
A writer named Stephen Hendricks is suing network BBC America, production company Temple Street, along with series creators Graeme Manson and John Fawcett on the grounds of copyright infringement. According to Hendricks, he wrote a screenplay called Double Double that he registered with the Writer’s Guild of America and had copyrighted. He claims that back in 2004 he provided Temple Street with a copy of his screenplay, though they decided not to go forward with producing his script. It was only years later, in 2013 when Orphan Black hit television screens, that Hendricks believed that his work had been stolen and co-opted by others. Per court documents, his screenplay is about the central theme of a secret group of clones and the lead character’s quest to discover the truth about her origins… which sounds a lot like the popular sci-fi series.
If Orphan Black was indeed cloned from that stolen idea, what specifically traces back to that original screenplay? Hendricks alleges that his screenplay shares many similarities with the plot of the series, and lists several in his claim, including “the protagonist is jolted by a death and the subsequent discovery of cloning and being a clone” – the opening scene of the series finds the lead character, Sarah Manning, seeing a woman who looks identical to her on a train platform. Before she can get an answer to that shock, the other woman hurls herself in front of an oncoming train. The disturbing moment sets in motion all of the events for the series as Sarah begins looking into the identical woman’s life, discovering the truth about the clones. Another example of claim of similar plot in the suit is “the protagonist is being watched by her corporate creators, and is soon on the run from them” which also is similar to the show. On the series, Sarah and her clone sisters soon discover that a corporation known as the Dyad Institute has planted people in their lives to monitor their every move and to study them. The first season finale revolved around Sarah rebelling against them and fleeing.
So while this is a disconcerting notion, the suit has just been filed and no allegations have been proven. Show creators Mason and Fawcett have stated in interviews that this was an idea they had been working on for years, and that their initial conception was also a screenplay. Even if the idea for Orphan Black is itself a clone of a stolen idea, it will have no bearing on the second season, which has already been filmed. The first season was a rollicking success, scoring critical acclaim as well as award recognition – lead Tatiana Maslany was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for her performance. Wherever the idea came from, Orphan Black is here to stay.
By Alex Warheit