For most struggling screenwriters, seeing their idea turned into a Hollywood blockbuster would be a dream come true. But when Brian Webster first heard about Jingle All the Way, the 1996 Arnold Schwarzenegger flick about a father frantically trying to secure a popular toy for his son at Christmas, he was anything but happy. “I knew they stole my idea,” says the Detroit high school science teacher. “I was devastated.”
No more. On March 6, a U.S. district court jury in Ann Arbor, Mich., found 20th Century Fox liable for copyright infringement. Though Webster, 49, sold the rights to his script Could This Be Christmas to Detroit’s Murray Hill Publications Inc. in 1993, he stands to get a six-figure sum from the $19 million in damages awarded. But the studio is appealing: “Fox copied nothing, infringed nothing and in no way violated any of the plaintiff’s rights,” says spokeswoman Florence Grace.
The fight began in 1996, when Murray Hill lawyers unsuccessfully tried to delay production of Jingle, saying it bore an uncanny resemblance to Webster’s script, which the firm had pitched to Fox two years earlier. Then, after Fox released the film—which grossed $60 million in the U.S.—Murray Hill filed suit. At the trial, retired University of Michigan film studies professor Ira Konigsberg said he found 36 “striking similarities” between the scripts.
Webster, a divorced father of three, says his cut of the settlement won’t let him quit his day job. But after 25 years of writing scripts—no others have been produced—he feels vindicated, “My kids are thrilled,” he says. “They see that if you’re a good person and work hard, the good guy will prevail. That’s something special.”