Charles Waterstreet.

Out in the cold: Charles Waterstreet. Photo: James Brickwood

HOW much is a life worth? That's a question barrister Charles Waterstreet has found himself asking, as the US studio giant Sony Pictures and the Fox TV network unfurl plans to remake the ABC legal drama Rake, which is based on his life.

Rake's lead character, criminal barrister Cleaver Greene, has been ripped literally from the pages of Waterstreet's life, and he is credited, along with actor Richard Roxburgh and writer Peter Duncan, with having co-created the series.

But as Greene heads off to the bright lights of Hollywood, the Sydney barrister has found himself potentially marginalised from a deal that may deliver a multimillion-dollar pay day for those involved.

Now, ironically, the resolution to the dispute may be played out in a court of law, as Waterstreet has moved to protect his ownership of a character that, give or take a case or two, is a mirror image of himself.

Sony's TV arm, Sony Pictures Television, this year announced plans to remake Rake, with Oscar-nominated actor Greg Kinnear ''attached'' to play the role for which Roxburgh has won acclaim. Most of the show's Australian creative team - Duncan, Roxburgh and producer Ian Collie - have been retained by the US production as executive producers, along with US writer-producer, Peter Tolan. Kinnear is also an executive producer.

Waterstreet, in contrast, was offered only two payments totalling $15,000. A legal letter sent to Rake's Australian producers, Essential Media, by Waterstreet's own lawyers, and seen by Fairfax Media, notes that the character of Greene is drawn from Waterstreet's personality and life, including his relationships with women and his son, his addictions, his problems with depression and other behaviours.

It also notes that many of the show's significant early storylines, which established the character, were taken from cases conducted by Waterstreet.

He also provided dialogue used in the show, which was taken from his addresses to the juries in those trials, notably in ''the cheeky style of advocacy and taboo-breaking humour'' for which he was famous.

When contacted, Waterstreet said it was ''regrettable that I have to take a firmer stand on my entitlement to the concept that I co-created with my friend, Mr Roxburgh, and Mr Duncan, and to the character, which is all me''.

''But the time has come when I must man up to a situation where I feel that I have been treated unfairly and that what little personality I had has been stripped from me.''

Essential Media's Ian Collie said that any revenue from the show's remake would have to be shared by the show's investors - the funding bodies Screen Australia, Screen NSW and the ABC - as well as the show's creators and producers.

''We have offered what we feel is a fair and equitable amount to Charles,'' Mr Collie said.