Original "Yesterday" screenwriter says Richard Curtis took more than a one-sentence idea

Screenwriter Jack Barth wrote the original script for Yesterday, the movie about a world where only one man remembers The Beatles. Richard Curtis (of Love Actually fame) liked the script and bought it, but on the proviso that Barth would not be named as the screenwriter. Curtis rewrote it as a rom-com, gave it a happy ending, but kept some key scenes. When the film came out, however, he claimed to have never read Barth's script, saying instead that all Barth came up with was a "one-sentence" idea. Barth is sick of hearing it; Curtis's alleged behavior was exposed yesterday in an interview at Uproxx.

"I didn't realize Richard was going to do this to me until the week that the film was released," Barth says. "Then all the publicity hit all at once and I could see that he was taking credit for everything. I think I could have done something then but I didn't want to jeopardize the film. I got lawyers to contact Richard's lawyers and they just dragged it out."

"By the time I realized I needed to get the story out there myself, it was really hard to pitch something that was for a film that had come out eight months earlier. Most of the media is concerned with just promoting the current films, they're not interested in a story about the abuse of the powerless by the powerful."

Note that there is no claim here of copyright infringement. Curtis bought the rights to Barth's script and paid well for it. What is interesting is his claim to have not read Barth's script, despite his own script having a number of the same scenes and jokes, and the fact that Barth was paid to abandon his own rights of authorship.

A good term for this practice, in my opinion, is "plagiarism rights". Another good one is "boastwriting", reflecting its nature as ghostwriting's evil twin. It's a practice that lurks where egomania and business realities intersect. There are intense pressures in the movie business to be seen as author and auteur—and many other businesses too. Elon Musk, for example, is named as the founder of Tesla, but in truth he was a money man who muscled his way into controlling the company years later. Consider how central that "foundership" is to the myth of Musk as inventor rather than investor. It serves his towering and fragile ego, of course, but is also the source of enormous real value.