Best-selling author says Fringe 'ripped off' his shapeshifter story

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Dec 15, 2012

A famous sci-fi and horror author claims that Hollywood has ripped him off. And his name isn't even Harlan Ellison.

Best-selling author F. Paul Wilson, known for books like The Keep and the Repairman Jack series, posted in a forum at the Repairman Jack website that Fringe has stolen the plotline from a book he published in 1998 with co-author Matthew Costello, called Masque.

Wilson claims that the Nov. 4 episode of the Fox series, titled "Novation," lifted the concept from his and Costello's book wholesale. He wrote:

In case you missed it, Fringe is developing a story line about beings from alternate Earth called shapeshifters who possess a special cellular structure. With the help of an implanted disc, they can sample anyone's DNA and become a perfect copy (down to the base-pair level) of that other person. The disk stores the various genomes and can switch between them.

Flashback to 1998: Warner Aspect publishes a novel by Matt Costello and me called Masque. It centers around secret agents called "mimes" who have a special mimetic DNA (mDNA) that can be programmed to copy anyone else's DNA. All they have to do is slip in a template disk encoded with that genome and their bodies change into a perfect copy of that person down to the molecular level. They also have blank programmable disks that can copy a DNA sample, allowing them to "steal" anyone's genome on the fly.

Notice any similarity? Come on. Just a little?

While Wilson agrees that you "can't copyright an idea," he points out that the episode seems to have lifted not just an idea, but the exact same technology and more or less the same plot as the 13-year-old novel. He continues:

And it's not as if Hollywood has never seen Masque. It's been floating around since Tom Cruise's production company (Cruise-Wagner) optioned it for Polygram Pictures immediately after publication. When Polygram folded, so did the deal, but numerous game companies have been interested in adapting it to interactive form (which was how we'd originally conceived it).

Wilson says he's not angry but instead "disheartened," adding, "Where I come from, writers honor each other's work. But the second-raters are always with us. They'll rip you off without so much as a by-your-leave because odds are they'll get away with it." He also says that while most of the writers on the Fringe staff might not be aware of the original material. "Whoever introduced it into the story conferences had to have read Masque. It's too...damn...close."

Wilson concludes by saying that he has no intention to sue, but directs readers to see the episode here and check out an e-version of the book (under the name DNA Wars) here, so that they can judge for themselves.

Do you think Wilson has a case? Did one of the writers on staff at Fringe deliberately rip off his book, or did they do it without realizing that they had read the story years ago?