Puzo Estate Can’t Nix “Godfather” Copyright Contract With Paramount

By Joseph Mandour on September 28, 2012

book-stack Los Angeles – A Manhattan federal judge on Wednesday ruled that the estate of author Mario Puzo cannot get out of a 1969 contract granting Paramount Pictures Corp. the copyrights to Puzo’s “Godfather” novels.

Paramount sued the Puzo estate in February for copyright infringement over the estate’s plans to publish a prequel in the “Godfather” series of novels, to be entitled “The Family Corleone.”

Paramount purchased certain rights in Puzo’s novel “The Godfather” in 1969, including any and all copyrights, which covers the right to publish sequels to the book and other installments in the series, according to Paramount.

Judge Alison J. Nathan granted Paramount’s motion to dismiss the estate’s counterclaims for tortious interference and cancellation or rescission of the contract, saying the claims were insufficiently pled, but left alive the estate’s claim for breach of contract.

In its claim for breach of contract, the estate is seeking to vindicate a right that, if it exists, arises out of the 1969 agreement and not out of federal copyright law, the judge said. Accordingly, the breach of contract claim is not preempted, she said.

The underlying question of whether the estate or Paramount actually owns the book publishing rights to any sequels to “The Godfather” was not before the court in Paramount’s motion, so Judge Nathan declined to address it.

Certain language that was struck from the 1969 agreement is central to the dispute, Judge Nathan said. The stricken language would have granted Paramount the right to publish “any versions or adaptations” of the novel, she said.

Paramount argued that the stricken language was only removed because the original novel had already been published, while the estate argued that the removal reserved all book publishing rights for the estate.

“The estate cannot insist that these rights were the essence of the agreement while also maintaining that they were not part of the bargain,” Judge Nathan said.

Accordingly, the estate could not sufficiently plead cancellation of the contract, the judge ruled.

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