The Austin Chronicle

Who Trolls the Trolls?

By Richard Whittaker, June 8, 2017, 3:45pm, Picture in Picture

Austin filmmaker Lex Lybrand likes HBO's tech-bro comedy Silicon Valley. That's why he was a little surprised that this week's episode bore suspiciously striking similarities to his film The Trolls. He said, "If you take the synopsis from my film, and you remove the word Texas, it doubles as a synopsis of Sunday's episode."

Silicon Valley by Texas film and TV mainstay Mike Judge (Office Space, King of the Hill) debuted on HBO in 2014. Lybrand Crowdfunded his film in 2015, and released it in 2016 (it's currently available on DVD and YouTube). Now Lybrand is questioning whether the cable show has impinged on his intellectual property rights over a story about … intellectual property rights.

Silicon Valley deals with the ups and downs of a fast-growing app company. The Trolls focuses on a small firm dealing with a patent troll (a nasty – but legal – industry whereby people use seemingly unrelated patents and copyrights to extort licensing fees out of supposed competitors). Both are comedies about IT, but so were Code Monkeys and The IT Crowd, so that was never a point of concern. It was only with this week's episode, "The Patent Troll," that Lybrand did a double take.

He didn't actually see the episode live. On Sunday, he was on the set of his next film Maybe Shower "when people were texting me going, 'Oh my god, are you watching Silicon Valley?' I had known from last week's preview clip that they were going to be dealing with patent trolls in some way, so I texted them back, 'Yeah, I know they're doing a patent trolls story.' I didn't know it was to this degree until I watched it."

Lybrand described the plotlines of the two properties as being oddly similar. He said, "A tech start-up reaches a milestone. For them it was cracking the top 500 in the app store, and for my film it was setting a crowdfunding record on Kickstarter. By doing so, they got the attention of someone who sends them a cease-and-desist/licensing request for an unrelated patent, and the heroes of the show attempt to settle it person to person. It's not an actual inventor, it's a patent troll."

Lybrand has assembled a video, comparing his film with the relevant scenes from this week's episode.

"Even some of the shot compositions are the same," said Lybrand, but it was at the moment that a character uses his film's signature line, "troll the trolls, I stood up and went, 'No.'"

Lybrand has confirmed that he has started considering his legal options.

HBO has released a statement to the Daily Dot that "we are confident that the episode is the original work of the writers of Silicon Valley."

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