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.
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.
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.