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View Full Version : Paramount Sues Puzo Estate over "Godfather" Sequels



heza
02-23-2012, 01:02 AM
I saw this article (http://now.msn.com/entertainment/0222-paramount-sue-godfather.aspx), today.


...Paramount has sued Puzo's estate to prevent publication of more "Godfather" novels. The studio claims it has exclusive rights to make any dramatic or literary works from the title, and that it wants to stop the Puzo estate from publishing any works that would "tarnish" the series' legacy.

Are purchasing movie rights and purchasing copyrights different things when dealing with studios making movies from books? For example, could Rowling or Meyers be prevented from writing more books in their respective universes? Or is this a special situation where Puzo signed over way more rights than he should have?

Drachen Jager
02-23-2012, 01:08 AM
it wants to stop the Puzo estate from publishing any works that would "tarnish" the series' legacy.

Paramount is 21 years too late if they wanted to avoid tarnishing the Godfather legacy.

OnlyStones
02-23-2012, 01:50 AM
Paramount is 21 years too late if they wanted to avoid tarnishing the Godfather legacy.

ba-dum-tssh

http://fc02.deviantart.net/images3/i/2004/11/3/e/Rim_Shot_emoticon.gif

Jamesaritchie
02-23-2012, 03:34 AM
I saw this article (http://now.msn.com/entertainment/0222-paramount-sue-godfather.aspx), today.



Are purchasing movie rights and purchasing copyrights different things when dealing with studios making movies from books? For example, could Rowling or Meyers be prevented from writing more books in their respective universes? Or is this a special situation where Puzo signed over way more rights than he should have?


Movie rights really have nothing to do with copyright. I have no idea why anyone would have sold copyright to Paramount. It would have been an incredibly stupid move, but stupid moves happen.

Drachen Jager
02-23-2012, 03:46 AM
Movie rights really have nothing to do with copyright. I have no idea why anyone would have sold copyright to Paramount. It would have been an incredibly stupid move, but stupid moves happen.

Really James? You have no idea? None at all? Did you spend a lot of time thinking about it?

I'll give you a hint, the word starts with the letter $. If there was enough of it I wouldn't say it's even fair to characterize it as a stupid move.

Jamesaritchie
02-23-2012, 04:21 AM
Really James? You have no idea? None at all? Did you spend a lot of time thinking about it?

I'll give you a hint, the word starts with the letter $. If there was enough of it I wouldn't say it's even fair to characterize it as a stupid move.

I still have no idea. Buying copyright is not normal in order to make a movie, and any sane agent would fight forever to keep a writer from making this move, no matter how much money was offered.

However much it was, it wasn't anywhere near enough.

Drachen Jager
02-23-2012, 04:29 AM
I dunno. If Paramount offered me $10 million for all the rights to my novel I'd ask them if they wanted it hand delivered.

You can always write another book.

jjdebenedictis
02-23-2012, 06:30 AM
I think $10 million is a pretty excessive number.

My understanding is when you sell a script, they really do buy the copyright. You, the scriptwriter, do not own that property anymore.

And the guy who wrote the script for Basic Instinct got paid $4 million for it, and that was a Very Big Deal. (He still gets paid that much per script, and it's still a big deal.)

So $10 million is an outrageous sum if a production company simply wants access to a book (which they can't use anyhow; they need it to be turned into a script, which is a separate work of art as far as copyrights go.)

So why would a movie company pay through the nose to own the copyright instead of just licensing the rights? There's no guarantee the movie will be a hit, so that level of financial speculation would simply be foolhardy.

Celia Cyanide
02-23-2012, 06:36 AM
I still have no idea. Buying copyright is not normal in order to make a movie, and any sane agent would fight forever to keep a writer from making this move, no matter how much money was offered.

However much it was, it wasn't anywhere near enough.

He's dead. Maybe he didn't want to write another Godfather book.

artemis31386
02-23-2012, 07:09 AM
I think $10 million is a pretty excessive number.

My understanding is when you sell a script, they really do buy the copyright. You, the scriptwriter, do not own that property anymore.

And the guy who wrote the script for Basic Instinct got paid $4 million for it, and that was a Very Big Deal. (He still gets paid that much per script, and it's still a big deal.)

So $10 million is an outrageous sum if a production company simply wants access to a book (which they can't use anyhow; they need it to be turned into a script, which is a separate work of art as far as copyrights go.)

So why would a movie company pay through the nose to own the copyright instead of just licensing the rights? There's no guarantee the movie will be a hit, so that level of financial speculation would simply be foolhardy.

Novel rights and screenplay rights are very separate things. They are handled differently. The author maintains the copyright unless they give it away.

veinglory
02-23-2012, 07:16 AM
We don't know what rights they bought. Some media stories certain suggest they bought the right to novel sequels. http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/sns-201202211716reedbusivarietynvr1118050556feb21,0,65 83280.story

poetinahat
02-23-2012, 07:20 AM
Yeah, I'm sure it's "tarnished legacy" that they're concerned with. Because they care way more about artistic integrity than the Puzo estate.

Haggis
02-23-2012, 07:27 AM
He's dead. Maybe he didn't want to write another Godfather book.
Pfft. Like he'd let that stop him.

BenPanced
02-23-2012, 07:33 AM
Didn't stop V. C. Andrews.

veinglory
02-23-2012, 07:06 PM
Yeah, I'm sure it's "tarnished legacy" that they're concerned with. Because they care way more about artistic integrity than the Puzo estate.

I wouldn't assume the Puzo estate gives that much of a damn either.

jjdebenedictis
02-23-2012, 08:39 PM
I hardly see how a slew of crappy ghost-written Godfather books would hurt them anyhow.

If you compare the number of books that have to sell to make a novel a "blockbuster" and compare it to the number of movie tickets that have to sell to give a film the same status, it's laughable.

Waaaaaaay more people see movies than read books. To the dedicated movie-goers, the new Godfather books essentially won't exist.

And even someone makes crappy movies of the presumably-crappy new books, no one's going to confuse those with the amazing movies that came out so many years ago. People can tell when a franchise jumps the shark.

Old Hack
02-23-2012, 09:04 PM
My understanding is when you sell a script, they really do buy the copyright. You, the scriptwriter, do not own that property anymore.

You've got it wrong.

Copyright is an umbrella which covers all rights to a creative work.

Agents license individual rights to publishers: for example, paperback rights, hardback rights, audio rights, digital rights, and so on. Good contracts will have a reversion clause which details how and when those rights will revert to the author.

No matter what rights are licensed, the author almost always still owns the copyright to the work. There are exceptions, of course, but it's not the norm to sell or give away a copyright unless one's doing work for hire, which is a whole different basket of beans.

Film studios often option rights to a book. Far more books are optioned in this way than are actually produced as films. An option doesn't give them the rights to make a film from the book: it means that for the time that the option runs, no one else can do so. If they want to go into production they have to license rights just like anyone else would.

Old Hack
02-23-2012, 10:24 PM
To clarify: the author retains the copyright on the original book; but the studio, whether film or TV, will usually retain the copyright in the original script which derives from that book. Scriptwriters tend to work for hire, while book-writers don't.

blacbird
02-23-2012, 11:09 PM
This dispute would seem to rest on whatever the contract between the Puzo estate and Paramount specifies. A trademark issue may be involved, too. I very much doubt that Puzo or his heirs ever actually sold the copyright to the original novel. Anybody stupid enough to do that would wake up some morning with a horse's head in the bed.

caw

jjdebenedictis
02-24-2012, 05:59 AM
To clarify: the author retains the copyright on the original book; but the studio, whether film or TV, will usually retain the copyright in the original script which derives from that book. Scriptwriters tend to work for hire, while book-writers don't.Absolutely; that was the distinction I was trying to make. My apologies that I wasn't clear enough.

If you write and sell a screenplay, the studio owns the screenplay entirely.

If you write and sell a book that is turned into a screenplay, you still own your book.

Mac H.
02-24-2012, 07:57 AM
Anybody stupid enough to do that would wake up some morning with a horse's head in the bed.Actually there are some cases where it makes sense to sell the copyright.

I know - because I just bought the copyrights for a literary estate. (I literally just picked up the bank cheque to pay the heirs a few hours ago).

Obviously you are right in some cases - if you have something like 'The Godfather' that is a major brand you'd want to keep more control over the IP.

However, if your grandfather wrote a memoir that nobody really remembers and you've tried to get it republished but nobody is interested .. then the value of that copyright is effectively zero. So it makes sense that if you have an opportunity to sell it you have two options:

1. Sell it up front for a decent chunk of change. It's a simple transfer.
-or-
2. Have a complicated contract, paying thousands of dollars in legal fees to nut out terms.
(Don't expect an agent to be interested in it .. no agent is interested in the reprint rights to a long-forgotten book that is unlikely to ever see the light of day)

Even worse still - which of the three kids actually inherited the copyright? If it isn't mentioned explicitly in the will then the executor of the estate is in an awkward position. It is easiest (and most profitable for everyone) for the executor to simply say "I can sell the copyright for a thousand dollars or so and split it like everything else".

Otherwise the kids will have to either share the property (and so every contract will have to be agreed in writing by all three, with 3 different lawyers!) or create a company or trust to manage the literary estate.

That's an awful lot of work for something that has been forgotten for the past few decades!

So - yes - obviously the rules are different for literary estates that clearly have a lot of value.

But for the other end of the spectrum? Selling the copyright directly (and the heirs can have a nice holiday for the money) makes a hell of a lot of sense.

Mac
(PS: Another thought - Keeping hold of 'the copyright' is often an illusion anyway. If you've licensed out all the rights to other people in multiple contracts ... then you don't have any rights left - you've already licensed them! It seems pedantic but makes a big difference to tax - because the value of the asset (the copyright) is now reduced to zero since the all the rights have been licensed out to others.

Some companies have stuffed this up. "Moulin Rouge' missed out on major tax breaks because they claimed them under the company that held the copyright ... yet since they had licensed out every single right to other companies the tax department pointed out that the copyright to the film literally had zero value. That cost them tens of millions of dollars)

poetinahat
02-24-2012, 08:11 AM
I wouldn't assume the Puzo estate gives that much of a damn either.
Why?

Old Hack
02-24-2012, 10:36 AM
Keeping hold of 'the copyright' is often an illusion anyway. If you've licensed out all the rights to other people in multiple contracts ... then you don't have any rights left - you've already licensed them!

Except that most licenses are finite, and when the term is over (or when the books go out of print) the rights revert to the copyright holder, ready to be licensed anew.

There's still value in those rights, for a lot of writers.

Mac H.
02-24-2012, 12:43 PM
Except that most licenses are finite, and when the term is over (or when the books go out of print) the rights revert to the copyright holder, ready to be licensed anew.

There's still value in those rights, for a lot of writers.Absolutely.

I was just using the topic as an excuse to geek out over the topic.

In the film world, however, the other party will make sure that they can avoid reversion for material that is making them money. That's why they have to keep making Spiderman films - because otherwise the rights revert back to the copyright holder. Even if they fall in popularity they'll need to churn them out to avoid the rights reverting.

And it was pretty funny reading the tax department's ruling on 'Moulin Rouge' .. they were incredulous that the company was still claiming that they owned this asset called 'copyright' when they didn't have a single right left - all the licenses were irrevocable & exclusive ... so they literally didn't possess a single right of value.

This also makes a big difference when shutting down SPVs for filmmaking.

Mac

heza
02-24-2012, 07:52 PM
This has all been very interesting. Thank you to everyone who has participated.

I'm still a little confused on some points regarding copyright vs. trademark rights. From conversations I've seen here, I assume I can't print Harry Potter books because I don't own the print rights, but I can't use a recognizable Harry in my own book because I don't own the trademark.

As I understand it, in typical dealings, print rights get licensed to publishers and film rights get licensed to studios, right? When you sell the entire copyright, that means the entity you sold to can turn around and do whatever it wants with the individual rights, yes? Is the trademark included in that bundle? If I sell someone the entire copyright to a novel, outright, does that entity now own the entire universe and all the characters... not just all rights to that particular novel? Meaning, I couldn't write sequels but they could?

Mac H.
02-25-2012, 06:16 AM
If you assign someone else the copyright then it is just as if they wrote it themselves. You are transferring *ALL* rights. (Unless a really bad lawyer writes the contract)

Obviously if you didn't own the characters in the first place (eg - the novel was Harry Potter fanfic or used public domain characters like Robin Hood) then those characters aren't transferred to the new owners .. but everything else is.

If you want to be pedantic there are some minor differences - the date the copyright expires will still be calculated from your death .. not theirs. And moral rights can't be assigned - so the same agreement will be a waiver of the moral rights, etc ..

In most areas you will retain the 'moral right' to call yourself the 'author' of the work .. which is one of the differences between assigning copyright after the work is written and originally writing it as a work for hire. As a work for hire you never were the original author - it was always the company paying you.


If I sell someone the entire copyright to a novel, outright, does that entity now own the entire universe and all the characters... not just all rights to that particular novel? Meaning, I couldn't write sequels but they could?If you imagine that contract treats the new owner as the original 'author' and you as a stranger ... then you won't go too far wrong.

That means that if you want to retain the rights to create sequels etc then you need to make darn sure that the agreement explicitly says so.

If you have expectations that you will retain certain rights then it is only fair to both parties that you make sure that the agreement clearly lists them.

Good luck,

Mac

blacbird
02-25-2012, 08:27 AM
From conversations I've seen here, I assume I can't print Harry Potter books because I don't own the print rights, but I can't use a recognizable Harry in my own book because I don't own the trademark.

Yup. Correct on both counts, and nothing more complicated than that.

caw