EDITORIAL: The Case of The Family Corleone
A Legal Minute: A little bit of the legal side of the biz you can read in a minute.
I’m Gonna Give Them A Ruling They Can’t Refuse
When I was 7 I remember walking into a room at my aunt and uncle’s house where my cousin was watching a video cassette of the immortal Godfather. It just so happened (*spoiler alert*) that I walked in on one of the most memorable moments of the entire film when movie mogul Jack Woltz finds a severed head in his bed. Needless to say I had a few sleepless nights. I also had an aversion to watching the film for years. When I finally did, I was so impressed I decided to read the book by Mario Puzo, the man who conceived of the characters.
Mario Puzo was a prolific author. Funnily enough, he stated in an interview after the film’s success, that he wrote The Godfather to make money, as his previous two books brought great acclaim, but little money. This desire to make money led Puzo to sign contracts with Paramount for the rights to make films based on his books back in 1967. He later signed an additional contract in 1969 that gave the studio veto power over new Godfather stories in order to protect that brand the film would create (in exchange for a sizeable payout at the time). These two contracts set up the scenario for an ongoing dispute between the estate of Mario Puzo and Paramount themselves.
In February Paramount found out about a deal in which the Puzo estate agreed to license a book titled The Family Corleone, about the rise to power of Vito Corleone. Paramount prevented the licensing deal, building a case around its 1969 contract with Puzo and a 2002 agreement where Paramount claimed they gave permission for only one sequel book to be published, The Godfather Returns. In response, the Puzo estate sued, building its case around the 1967 agreement that apparently left Puzo with the exclusive book publishing rights.
In the case, filed, in New York The Puzo estate has been trying to have a judge cancel the 1969 agreement. Paramount has been trying to claim that their 1969 deal is in full effect. Last week an initial ruling by the judge was not exactly a win for either side. The judge stated that the 1969 agreement cannot be cancelled, and that Paramount’s blocking the licensing of The Family Corleone was within its rights. But it’s not all a win for Paramount. There is still a very contentious breach of contract claim that will still need to be tried. It all hinges on how a judge interprets the 1967 and 1969 agreements.
So it remains to be seen where the case goes from here. Most likely there will be no resolution until next year. So goes the fallout from wanting to take the fast money up front in exchange for diminished rights to the characters. And for a Godfather fanboy like myself, I just hope The Puzo family gets a ruling in their favor. Can you imagine a Godfather prequel? That is definitely a new chapter to the story I can’t refuse.
Roberto “R.C.” Rondero de Mosier is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, California, New York and Illinois. He is a partner at Gonzalez & Mosier Law PLLC. His practice specializes in Entertainment Law and Intellectual Property rights. In his spare time he enjoys watching television and films, and writing about it. Follow him on Twitter @showbizattorney, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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