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Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

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Friday, August 3, 2012

Total Recall, Philip K. Dick, The Terminator, Robotic Heads & PreCrime

Today marks the release of "Total Recall," the remake of the 1990 movie, with Len Wiseman stepping in for Paul Verhoeven as director and Colin Farrell taking over for Arnold Schwarzenegger as Douglas Quaid/Hauser. Both of these movies are based (loosely, at least in the case of the 1990 version) on Philip K. Dick's short story, "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale." Dick has had a huge impact on the silver screen, with many of his works being adapated into amazing movies, such as "Blade Runner," "Minority Report," and "A Scanner Darkly."

Dick has also had a sizeable impact on our court system. In Goldberg v. Cameron, 787 F.Supp.2d 1013 (N.D. Cal. 2011), Neil Goldberg sued James Cameron and others for copyright infringement, claiming "that a script and soundtrack he sent to New World Pictures in or around 1979 were misappropriated...and incorporated into the popular action films "The Terminator"...and "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" The Northern District of California disagreed, finding, inter alia, that

The most important similarity between the works involves an unprotectable element: the general idea of a futuristic conflict between man and machines, specifically computers and robots. That theme is a commonplace in science fiction. Indeed, the notion of intelligent machines evolving into conscious beings at war with human beings was originally developed in Mary Shelley's classic Frankenstein (1818). Other portrayals of artificial intelligence at war with humans include Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), the move Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970), and Philip K. Dick's story "Second Variety" (1952), a post-nuclear apocalypse story in which the defeated forces turn to a guerrilla warfare conducted by self-reproducing machines programmed to destroy anything that lives. (emphasis added).

And then there's the amusing (but not for the plaintiff) case, Hanson v. America West Airlines, 544 F.Supp.2d 1038 (C.D.Cal. 2008). According to the court in Hanson,  

Plaintiff David Hanson...has lost his head. More specifically, Plaintiff has lost an artistically and scientifically valuable robotic head modeled after famous science fiction author Philip K. Dick...Dick's well-known body of work has resulted in movies-such as Total Recall, Blade Runner, Minority Report, and A Scanner Darkly, and a large group of admirers has grown following his death in Orange County, California, in 1982. His stories have questioned whether robots can be human (see, e.g., Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968)), so it seems appropriate that Plaintiff reincarnated Dick as a robot which included the Head, valued at around $750,000.

Plaintiff lost his Head on one of Defendant's planes when flying from Texas to San Francisco with a connection in Las Vegas....Plaintiff brought the Head onto the plane in a carry-on duffel bag and stored it in the overhead bin. Plaintiff fell asleep during the flight from Texas to Las Vegas, and woke up when the plane arrived in Las Vegas....On waking, Plaintiff immediately left the plane to catch his connecting flight to San Francisco....Perhaps because he had just woken up, Plaintiff lacked the total recall to remember to retrieve the Head from the overhead bin.

According to Plaintiff, as soon as he got to San Francisco, he went to the baggage counter, spoke to Defendant's employee, Leanne Miller..., and informed her of the problem....Miller told him that the airplane with his Head was in flight, and could not be checked until it landed in Southern California....Plaintiff offered to fly to Southern California to regain his Head, but Miller told him not to do that....According to Plaintiff, he informed Miller of the importance and value of the Head, and she replied that all efforts would be made to recover the Head and that it would receive "special treatment."

Plaintiff asserts that about 45 minutes later, Miller called him with the good news that the Head had been found in Orange County....Plaintiff "remained willing" to go retrieve his Head, but Miller replied that it would be sent to San Francisco....According to Plaintiff, Miller then informed him of the special security procedures that would be taken to protect and deliver the Head....Plaintiff told Miller that Plaintiff's friend Craig Grossman would be at the airport to pick up the Head....Grossman waited for the Head at the San Francisco airport, but it never arrived and has not been found since....While hearts may be left in San Francisco, heads apparently are left in Orange County, or are simply lost or stolen.

Hanson thus sued America West for conversion, negligence, and involuntary bailment, but the Central District of California granted the defendant's motion for summary judgment, concluding that 

Philip K. Dick and other science fiction luminaries have often explored whether robots might eventually evolve to exercise freedom of choice. See, e.g., 2001: A Space Odyssey (a HAL 9000 exercises his freedom of choice to make some bad decisions). But there is no doubt that humans have the freedom of choice to bind themselves in mutually advantageous contractual relationships. When Plaintiff chose to enter the Contract of Carriage with Defendant he agreed, among other things, to limit Defendant's liability for lost baggage. Failing to show that he is entitled to relief from that agreement, Plaintiff is bound by the terms of that contract, which bars his state law claims.
The Court must GRANT Defendant's Motion. But it does so hoping that the android head of Mr. Dick is someday found, perhaps in an Elysian field of Orange County, Dick's homeland, choosing to dream of electric sheep. 

And then there's In re Detention of Danforth, 264 P.3d 783 (Wash. 2011).

In Danforth

In October 2006, Robert Danforth went to the King County Sheriff's Office, described his history of sex offenses, and made explicit descriptions of his plans to molest boys and have intercourse with a child. He repeatedly said that he would act on his plan if he was not committed as a sex offender.

In response, the King County prosecuting attorney filed a petition to civilly commit Danforth, who had previously committed sexual offenses, as a sexually aggressive predator pursuant to RCW 71.09.030(5). Thereafter, Danforth moved for summary judgment, arguing that his actions did not constitute a "recent overt act" to qualify him for commitment. After that motion was denied, Danforth and the prosecutor agreed to a stipulation, which stated, inter alia, that

Respondent has committed a recent overt act as that term is defined in RCW 71.09.020, namely through statements Mr. Danforth made to the [MHPs] on October 25, 2006 [and] to the King County Sheriff on October 25, 2006 and October 26, 2006. 

When Danforth thereafter appealed, the Supreme Court of Washington affirmed, finding that "A reasonable jury could find that Danforth committed a threat when he gave explicit descriptions of his plans to molest boys at a bus stop and have intercourse with a child at a mall video arcade." Meanwhile Justice Chambers concurred in part and dissented in part, finding that "I completely agree with the dissent on key principles of law, but because I would hold the petitioner to his stipulation, I concur with the lead opinion in result."

So, what did the dissent say? Well, according to the dissent,

In the movie Minority Report (Twentieth Century Fox et al. 2002), based on the short story of the same name by Philip K. Dick, “PreCrime” police act on premonitions of psychics to arrest perpetrators before they commit their crimes. Fortunately, we will never have PreCrime police so long as our courts require the State to confine state action to due process of law, requiring a present showing of dangerousness before a suspect can be civilly committed for crimes not yet committed.
We recognize that there is a risk that Danforth might perpetrate a sexually violent crime. But Danforth is not alone in presenting such a risk. We cannot lock up every person who presents a risk of future violent crime. Indeed, we recoil from the thought of confining innocent men and women simply because a knowledgeable objective observer is reasonably apprehensive that man or woman will commit a crime. The State failed to show that Robert Danforth committed any recent act; to the contrary, Danforth sought help to avoid committing any crime. We should assist Danforth's efforts to control his urges instead of imprisoning him. 

-CM

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/evidenceprof/2012/08/total-recall-hanson-v-america-west-airlines-inc544-fsupp2d-1038cdcal2008.html

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