Austin-based filmmaker Lex Lybrand was in for a shock when he watched the June 4 episode of the HBO series "Silicon Valley."
From the storyline to the shot composition to the actual dialogue, Lybrand saw strong similarities between the episode "The Patent Troll" and his film "The Trolls."
According to the film's website, "The Trolls" tells the story of a Texas-based start-up that "loses everything to a patent troll." In the "Silicon Valley" episode, the app created by the show's main characters is threatened by a patent troll.
"Patent troll" is the term used to refer to a person or company that obtains rights to patents or copyrights and uses them to extort money from creators.
"Silicon Valley," which is produced by Mike Judge, is currently in its fourth season and premiered in Austin in May. The episode in question was written by Andrew Law, who has written for several other shows including Late Night with Seth Meyer, according to IMDB.
Lybrand told KVUE that he wrote "The Trolls" in 2014, shot it in 2015 and premiered it in Austin in March 2016. In October, "The Trolls" was acquired for distribution by Brink Vision and is now on VOD, DVD and Blu-ray.
The indie film isn't unknown to HBO, Lybrand said.
"I had actually had conversations with them a couple of years ago about my film. "Last Week Tonight" did a segment on patent trolls, and I contacted the show about licensing the clip for my film," Lybrand explained. "The nice people who run the "Last Week Tonight" Facebook page put me in touch with HBO's VP of Media Relations, but when it became clear I wouldn't be able to afford the license to use the clip, I had a local animator make an original short instead. That conversation with HBO, by the way, took place in April of 2015 – so they've been aware of my film for more than two years."
Lybrand said he is a regular viewer of "Silicon Valley," but didn't see the episode until Monday night. He said he was aware the episode would cover patent trolls from the preview clip from the previous week.
"I didn't know how 1:1 the similarities were until I actually watched the episode on Monday night, though," he said.
Lybrand created a video to show the similarities he sees between his film and the "Silicon Valley" episode:
Lybrand has yet to take legal action. He said his film was funded by a local intellectual property law firm, Cesari & Reed LLP.
"They were the first ones I approached after this happened," Lybrand said. "Obviously they have a lot of thoughts on the matter."
When asked for comment, HBO told KVUE, "We are confident that the episode is the original work of the writers of Silicon Valley."