'Syriana' makers hit with plagiarism suit

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The makers of the geopolitical thriller Syriana, starring George Clooney, have been hit with a plagiarism suit filed by a Frenchwoman living in the Middle East, who claims that Stephen Gaghan, Syriana's director-screenwriter, borrowed lavishly from a script she had been working on for years.

The suit, which comes before the courts in Paris next week, argues that Stephanie Vergniault, a lawyer living in Jordan, is owed €2m (£1.4m), plus damages, as her share of the profits from the hit film, which netted Gaghan a screenwriting Oscar nomination and earned Clooney a best supporting actor Academy Award.

Plagiarism suits are extremely common in Hollywood, but they rarely achieve success.

Ms Vergniault claims "90 per cent of the political intrigue" of her script,Oversight, found its way into Syriana. "Many of the sceneries [sic], characters, creative elements can be found in my script," she wrote on a film website bulletin board last month. "I am more than furious about it!"

Much like Syriana, she says her story weaves a complicated international web of interests spanning oil, big business and the intelligence services. She says she registered her script in France in September 2004 and in the US two weeks later.Syriana's 80-day shoot also began in September 2004. That does not exclude the possibility that Gaghan saw her work while writing his screenplay, but it will make the connection harder to prove.

A spokesman for Warner Brothers, the studio behind Syriana, told the Hollywood Reporter: "While we have not seen a copy of this suit, we believe it is without merit." Gaghan based his script on a memoir by former CIA agent Robert Baer but deviated from it sufficiently for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to reclassify his screenplay as an original, as opposed to adapted, work.