Just whose Stealth story is it? Court battle brews

January 24, 1992|By Robert W. Welkos | Robert W. Welkos,Los Angeles Times Syndicate *

The plot goes like this: Iranian terrorists, eager to see their country become the dominant power in the Middle East, hijack a nuclear-armed Stealth bomber and in the process provoke a dangerous confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Gyorgy Fodor, a Hungarian-born filmmaker, liked the idea so much he wrote a screenplay about it called "Stealth."

Dennis Anderson, a night editor at the Associated Press in Los Angeles, liked the idea so much he wrote a novel about it called "Target Stealth."

Today, the two men are locked in a federal court fight that involves allegations that Time Warner Inc., one of America's communications giants, participated in a high-level "cover-up" to make it appear that Mr. Anderson's book was written first.

Mr. Fodor alleges in a copyright infringement suit that after submitting his 94-page screenplay to a high-ranking executive at Warner Bros. in Burbank, Calif., in 1988, the screenplay was sent without his knowledge to Warner Books in New York and turned into a 339-page novel authored by "Jack Merek," Mr. Anderson's pen name. Mr. Fodor claims that financing for his movie fell through as a result.

Mr. Fodor, 39, further alleges that the screenplay and book not only contain more than 50 similar plot and character elements, but that common errors about the radar-invisible bomber also appear in both works.

Mr. Anderson, 38, contends that any similarities, if they exist, are coincidence and largely stem from the fact that so little was known about the super-secret B-2 bomber before it debuted in late 1988.

But Mr. Fodor's allegations go deeper than merely two works of fiction having similar creative elements. He maintains that Time Warner Chairman Steven Ross gave instructions to his underlings to "handle" the Fodor claim, and they then produced a paper trail of "cooked" documents.

The suit seeks up to $5 million in actual damages and an unspecified amount of punitive damages.

To shore up its defense, Time Warner has produced checks, bank deposits, certificates of deposit, company memos and letters between the author and his agent indicating the book predated Mr. Fodor's screenplay. But Mr. Fodor said he hopes to prove the documents have been altered and the correspondence forged, allegations Time Warner has denied.

Mr. Anderson's side argues that to believe Mr. Fodor one would also have to believe that the conspiracy stretched beyond Time Warner and its movie and book subsidiaries to include banks where the checks were processed and two other publishing houses that rejected Mr. Anderson's original manuscript.

Mr. Anderson, who lives only a few miles from where the B-2 bomber was built in Palmdale, Calif., maintains he got the book idea while covering aerospace for the wire service. He is adamant that "Target Stealth" was conceived and written fully a year before Mr. Fodor completed his work.

"I'm very proud of the book I wrote," he said. "If there was something of a scam or conspiracy of that nature it might be natural for me to run behind the lawyers for protection, but I've done everything I can and provided every piece of material I can to demonstrate that this was my idea and my story and I did it by myself."

The case has yet to come to trial, but last year a federal judge in Los Angeles refused to toss it out, saying "the general ideas of the two works resemble each other greatly."

U.S. District Judge James M. Ideman is considering a second motion to dismiss the case.

Mr. Fodor, who is being represented by Melvin Belli's law firm in San Francisco, said the similarities in the two works are many. He cites as one example a scene where the arch villain is explaining the underlying reason for hijacking the Stealth bomber. In the screenplay, the villain is named Sadek; in the book, he is Avadek.

In the screenplay, Sadek says: "Then with the remaining nuclear bombs [exactly eight, at the end] and the Stealth we will be the most powerful country in the world."

In the book, Avadek says: "With the eight bombs and the sophisticated delivery system [the Stealth bomber] we will not be the little guys anymore. We will not be a regional power. We will deal as equals in this dangerous world."

Actually, the Stealth bomber carries a maximum of 16 gravity nuclear bombs.

L Mr. Fodor also says there are "common errors" in both works.

In the screenplay, which he copyrighted in 1987, Mr. Fodor said he made a typographical error in estimating the time it would take for the Stealth to fly one way from Los Angeles to Washington. It was listed as 92 minutes. In a subsequent draft, he corrected this to 192 minutes.

"The typographical error would mean the plane would have to fly at a speed of approximately Mach 2.5," Mr. Fodor's attorneys said in their legal briefs. "It is a fact widely known that the Stealth bomber is strictly a sub-sonic aircraft and has absolutely no capability of exceeding Mach 0.9."

They say in the closing chase sequence of the book, the Stealth bomber is supposedly flying toward Washington at approximately Mach 2.5.

But Mr. Anderson dismisses the similarity. "There were a lot of people forecasting how fast the Stealth would go," he said. "Everybody guessed wrong. They guessed supersonic."

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