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The lawsuit is real and Sophia Stewart, a writer and paralegal, continues to maintain that the films were based on her ideas. But her case has long been dismissed and there has been no such $2.5-billion settlement — not in 2004 when the rumor was first shared, and not now.
An old hoax that the lucrative "Matrix" and "Terminator" film franchises forked over billions of dollars to a woman who claims they ripped off her work has resurfaced online as the fourth "Matrix" movie, "The Matrix Resurrections" is set to debut in Dec. 2021.
"Sophia Stewart wrote books in the 70s that were stolen from her by Warner Bros. (Terminator 1-4 & The Matrix 1 & 2!)" a Sept. 29 Instagram post said. "Her lawsuit took 30 years but she won Hollywood's biggest lawsuit, $2.5 Billion."
The lawsuit is real, and Sophia Stewart, a writer and paralegal, continues to maintain that the films were based on her ideas. But her case was long ago dismissed, with no such $2.5 billion settlement — not in 2004 when the rumor was first shared, and not now.
The Instagram post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
On her website, where she describes herself as "The Mother of the Matrix," Stewart claims that she answered a magazine ad in 1986 that said Andy and Larry Wachowski (who would go on to direct the Matrix films and now go by Lilly and Lana Wachowski) were seeking science fiction stories to be made into a comic book. She said she submitted her story "The Third Eye," but never heard back and her manuscript wasn’t returned.
After seeing "The Matrix" in 1999, Stewart claimed that she recognized themes and characters from her story and said the same of the "Terminator" films. She filed a lawsuit in 2003 against several defendants including the Wachowskis, "Terminator" director James Cameron, producers Gale Anne Hurd and Joel Silver, Warner Bros., and 20th Century Fox. She accused them all of copyright infringement and racketeering, and sought over $1 billion in damages.
The case was dismissed in June 2005 after the judge ruled that Stewart and her attorneys had failed to produce evidence to support her claims and did not demonstrate a striking similarity between her work and the films.
She later filed another lawsuit, this time against her attorneys who represented her in the case, accusing them of breach of contract and malpractice, among other things. In 2014, the judge ordered that she was entitled to $316,280 stemming from the costs and attorneys fees in the copyright infringement suit.
Stewart responded and sent us court documents but we didn’t see anything that substantiated the claim.
The false rumors about the supposed settlement appear to stem from an October 2004 article by the Salt Lake Community College Globe newspaper. The story, titled "‘Mother of the Matrix’ Victorious," mistakenly said that Stewart would recover damages from the films, receiving "one of the biggest payoffs in the history of Hollywood, as the gross receipts of both films and their sequels total over 2.5 billion dollars."
The article was later found to be full of errors, with the student reporter mistaking Stewart’s successful counter of an early dismissal motion as her winning the case. The Globe issued a correction:
"In reference to the recent article entitled ‘Mother of the Matrix Victorious,’ some information has been deemed misleading. Ms. Sophia Stewart has not yet won her case against Joel Silver, Time Warner and the Wachowski Bros. The decision on October 4th enabled Ms. Stewart to proceed with her case, as all attempts to have it dismissed were unsuccessful. Ms. Stewart’s case will proceed through the Central District Court of California."
By then the story had already been picked up by other websites, and continues to be shared.
An Instagram post claims that Stewart won "Hollywood’s biggest lawsuit" over copyright infringement in the "Matrix" and "Terminator" film franchises and was awarded $2.5 billion.
This is inaccurate. The case was dismissed in 2005, with no money going to Stewart.
We rate this claim False.
UPDATE, Oct. 6, 2021: This story has been updated to note that Stewart did respond to PolitiFact following initial publication.
Instagram post, Sept. 29, 2021
CaseText.com, Stewart v. Wachowski, Accessed Oct. 4, 2021
Truthaboutmatrix.com, The Stories, Accessed Oct. 4, 2021
Salt Lake Community College Globe, "'Mother of the Matrix' Victorious", Oct. 28, 2004
Court Listener, Report and Recommendations — Document #283, Aug. 11, 2014
Court Listener, Order Adopting Report and Recommendations — Document #287, Sept. 29, 2014
The Los Angeles Times, The Billion-Dollar Myth, July 31, 2005
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