Inside The Billion Dollar Matrix Lawsuit, One of the Internet’s Most Pervasive Legends

For 10 years, the story of Sophia Stewart winning a court case for basing "The Matrix" off of her copyrighted screen treatment has continuously cropped up on the web, but court documents show the story is little more than a viral legend.

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Keanu Reeves and Hugo Weaving pointing guns at each other in a scene from the film 'The Matrix'.

Was a woman who wrote an original story more than 30 years ago plagiarized then deposed by the powerful Hollywood machine? Was she awarded billions after a heated lawsuit? A claim that has circulated around the Internet for years says so, but in actuality it’s little more than a longstanding legend.

Since 2005, multiple stories have popped up on the Internet about Sophia Stewart, a writer who now lives in Las Vegas, winning a judgment against Andy and Larry (now Lana) Wachowski, 20th Century Fox and director James Cameron among others, and being awarded millions in damages. One from thaindian.com, dated 2009, makes the phony claim, which has found its way to various Facebook accounts and a since-corrected CNN iReport. Before being corrected, that iReport went viral again early this week.

According to court documents obtained by TIME, those stories are false. In the case of a lawsuit filed in 2003 claiming damages, Stewart alleged that the idea of the 1984 film The Terminator and the 1999 film The Matrix  were stolen from her own screen treatment entitled “The Third Eye,” which was copyrighted in 1983. The documents show that Stewart claimed she was defrauded of $200 million, plus royalties, a hefty sum if she could prove that the Wachowskis and Cameron had ripped her off. On her website, where she dubs herself “The Mother of the Matrix,” Stewart says she answered a magazine ad in 1986 that said the Wachowskis were soliciting science fiction stories to be made into a comic book, but after she sent it she never heard from the defendants.

However, her court claim goes back even further, saying she gave her original six-page treatment to 20th Century Fox in 1981, but did not get any acknowledgment of their receiving it until 1985, when it was rejected. At any rate, after viewing The Matrix, she said she immediately recognized her story and she wound up filing suit.

Click here to see a copy of Stewart’s court complaint.

But the courts do not believe that her work was plagiarized by the Wachowskis or Cameron. The ruling from Morrow held that “plaintiff Sophia Stewart take nothing by way of her complaint against defendants…” Stewart reportedly failed to show up for her court date, but she denies any failure. The lawsuit was dismissed with the judge ruling Stewart and her attorneys “had not entered any evidence to bolster its key claims or demonstrated any striking similarity between her work and the accused directors’ films,” according to Snopes. The defendants were awarded $305,235.62 in attorney fees, but Stewart said they never collected.

Click here to see the judgment in Stewart’s case against the Wachowskis.

Click here for the full ruling of the U.S. District Court.

On her website, Stewart does not claim she defeated the Wachowskis in court, but does say she won a $150 million judgment against Jonathan Lubell, her former attorney (now deceased). That court document does say she won a judgment, but U.S. District Judge Clark Waddups denied Stewart the sum she asked for. Instead, he asks her for evidence as to why Lubell should pay that amount. Stewart insists that she is owed $3 billion. “The judge took it upon himself to…[say] I had to tally up the damages,” she said, maintining that justice is her true aim. “I’m not seeking damages, I’m seeking for someone to go to jail.”

If the Wachowskis took Stewart’s manuscript and turned it into a blockbuster without paying her for it, the federal court system has yet to say they believe her and none of the defendants have ever commented publicly on the case. Court documentation that Stewart sent to TIME shows that her struggle to prove she was wronged is at least a decade old and her petitions have gone unanswered by the judicial system, although she says she has offered proof that her work was stolen. But she alleges corruption within the judicial system tripped her up. “They paid a lot of people off to hide all of this stuff.”

Interestingly enough, although Stewart did not win her case, she’s not the only one who has accused the Wachowskis of stealing. Screenwriter Thomas Althouse accused them of lifting the ideas for sequels The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolution from a screenplay he called The Immortals. He filed suit in federal court earlier this year.

In Stewart’s case, the Internet rumors that she was triumphant in her case have flourished. To be clear, the stories that the producers of “The Matrix” trilogy have forked over billions of dollars to Stewart are patently false. No judgment of damages for funds in any amount were decided in her favor. The case has been closed since 2005, but urban legend found its way to the Internet and for nearly a decade many who read unresearched stories believe that Stewart actually won her case.

Despite this, Stewart maintains that payment is due to her and vows to get satisfaction.  She remains steadfast that The Matrix was her idea, and that there are uncanny similarities between her treatment and what theatergoers saw.

“I won that judgment and those judges are going to give me my money and Warner Bros. is going to pay it,” she said.

8 comments
matt_mosley2006
matt_mosley2006

THIS *STORY* HAS BEEN DEBUNKED A MILLION TIMES!
IT'S YEARS OLD AND NOT EVEN A TINY BIT TRUE!!!

DO SOME DAMN RESEARCH BEFORE POSTING THIS CRAP!!!

You_Stared_It
You_Stared_It

Has this been kept out of the main stream press deliberately??

Jawsphobia
Jawsphobia

So she says, “I’m not seeking damages, I’m seeking for someone to go to jail.” And then her final quote in the article is, "those judges are going to give me my money and Warner Bros. is going to pay it." 

Terminator was mentioned with no explanation, even though Cameron did acknowledge the works of Harlan Ellison in the video release - an unconscious fusion of Outer Limits episodes he may have seen as a kid. The Wackowski siblings have their flaws, but - gez - the concept of the third eye and spoon bending and Alice in Wonderland aren't exactly hidden influences. . .

thejeffwei
thejeffwei

Why is "BIllion" spelled with the first 'i' capitalized? Also, judgment is typically spelled with only one 'e'. These are really basic things spellcheck should have caught. I'm not even sure how this is really newsworthy, this is the kind of thing snopes usually does.

CarlaB.Boone
CarlaB.Boone

@thejeffwei Do you work for the Motion Picture Association/a major network or studio? Stealing billions from everyday, tax paying citizens and ruining their lives, health and careers is indeed newsworthy. Further, when these alleged crooks DON'T  EVEN HAVE TO GO TO TRIAL...of course it is not NEWSWORTHY,  because they, previously, controlled THE NEWS...NOT ANY MORE!http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F4EJ9ROlW4oThe Sequel Death of Copyright


scmincey11
scmincey11

@thejeffwei

Perhaps the capitalized ”I" was a typo and so was the "e" in judgment.  Why is it important? You talk about using spell-check in the face of such serious allegations that are not that farfetched? It happens every day. What I want to know is why would you waste your time making a comment and what was the real purpose of Gray's article, although informative? I would have been more impressed if it was an serious investigative piece; if he had asked more questions of the defendants; if he had at least given Stewart some credit even though the material she sent the Times was dated, so what? The Times knew she had submitted her work to Wachowskis and Cameron and the Times were aware that these guys were accused of lifting work from Screenwriter Thomas Althouse as well.Why not give her the benefit of the doubt. Why trivialize her claim by questioning the use of the internet? Is she a wealthy woman? You question the use of the internet by her and others to get her story out, even though you admit that she never said she won her case against Wachowskis and Cameron?The internet is a tool that she ought to take advantage of since she does not have a paid marketing staff like the Hollywood moguls.

Second, if Stewart’s alleged fraud claim is most likely a fantasy, trumped by spell checking, and an unlikely collusions among the defendants, attorneys and court officials, please tell me why are we still picking up the pieces from the 2007 financial crisis that brought this country to its knees and recently JP Morgan was forced to pay $ 13 bIllion in damages (Capital "I", punt intended) for their roles in the worst financial fraud in the history of this country?   You say, Sophia Stewart allegation is not newsworthy? I am glad you opened that door. Who are you and why should you opinion count? In comparison, I suppose JP Morgan's having to make the largest pay out in history, due to fraud, is not newsworthy either according to your standards?  Sophia Stewart a lone black female going up against loins who have amassed Billions from the Matrix and Terminator and you are convinced that lifting her ideas that made it possible has no news value?

Are we to presume that Madison Gray cannot understand how Court officials could have played a role in sabotaging Stewart efforts also? Are you and Gray living under a rock?   The premise of this story is that Stewart did not “win” in court against Wachowskis and Cameron, although she was awarded a judgment against her own attorneys. Why then won’t this story go away, Gray ask? Whether she won or not, is she credible enough to raise questions because we all know winning does not mean a fraud was not committed. I filed a case and went to the Court to get copies thinking that my material would be safe in the Court’s record room. Do you know what happened? I submitted my docket number and they could not fine the file, it was lost they said. Lost? The files was either destroyed or conveniently misfiled because it contained key evidence pertaining to a mortgage fraud a year after Markopolos filed his complaints.

Third, based on your assumptions it is irrelevant that the blind eyes and sealed lips that were privy to the 1999 complaint filed by Harry Markopolos with the watchdog SEC claiming that Madoff was running a Ponzi scheme fell on deaf ears as well. The SEC refused to listen, yet we all know MarkopOlos was right and it took a crisis nine years later to prove it.  Why didn't the SEC investigate or perhaps" they had no interest in seeking the truth because too many people were making money so it was not worthy of their attention. The same treatment and snub was given to Brooksley E. Born, chairperson of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) lobbied congress and the president to give her regulatory power over the now well-known off-exchange markets for derivatives. Born was ridiculed and resigned in 1999, her warning falling on deaf ears because too many were making money. Born was proven right about derivatives, and so was Markopolos and so was I, we did not win. No one knows me or my story, who I am is unimportant; what is important is that we are a populace that is too willing to kneel to any new gospel, unexamined, and dam anyone who says they are false prophets and the magic they peddle is a fraud.

Finally, why would anyone expect the defendants to comment? When do frauds go out in the streets and broadcast their crimes that is the reason it’s called a fraud. These guys made millions. It takes money to get justice and one person, a black woman rightfully fighting for justice is no match financially to fraud who can buy justice. I know because I too was solo act in 2000 and beyond regarding a financial fraud that involved JPMorgan, Citibank and local solicitor in Georgia who mortgaged and took my property in a fraud. Yet, I fought in NY and in Georgia alone. Like Stewart, if I was wrong in 2000 why were JPMorgan and Citibank sued by the Justice department for mortgage fraud. You have no idea the tricks and the number of people that can be lured into aiding and abetting powerful and corrupt entities, but there is a saying, “One million zeros do not add up to One."  She did her case pro se and now we know why, often times the individual is he or she best advocate in high profile matters it’s sad to say. The Judicial system is made of men and women many willing to turn a court into a Phantom right before your eyes. The point is Mr. Gray its aint over until the skinny ladies laugh.  

CarlaB.Boone
CarlaB.Boone

@scmincey11 @thejeffwei Sophia's story is not only newsworthy, we allege that there is a conspiracy and  serious abuses of judicial authority prevalent throughout the federal judicial system when everyday citizens file claims o infringement against major corps/networks/studios/record labels..The problem  I have with this  piece  is the insinuation that her claim does not have merit when, if, as you stated, the so called "journalist" did some basic research, he would have found that 46/48 cases IN THE LAST 20 YEARS, INCLUDING SOPHIA'S, (96%), filed against networks and studios were dismissed, LIKE SOPHIA'S, ON SUMMARY JUDGMENT MOTIONS; BASICALLY SAYING THAT NONE OF 46/48 CASES COULD HAVE WON! We have been fighting to get our cases back on the docket of the court FOR YEARS...AND WE WILL NOT STOP.   http://youtu.be/A3_iaeWw818 

When Ms. Stewart stated “I’m not seeking damages, I’m seeking for someone to go to jail” she is not asking too much. The Department o Justice recently arrested 2 citizens and put them in jail and made them pay back the Motion Picture Association for these  same charges...yet NO ONE in the MPAA/THEIR  ASSOCIATES been subjected  to, forget jail time...THEY DON'T EVEN GO TO TRIAL!
LET'S BE CLEAR...ALL CITIZENS DESERVE...JUSTICE...WE WILL FIGHT UNTIL THERE IS...JUSTICE FOR ALL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F4EJ9ROlW4oThe Sequel Death of Copyright