Paramount Pictures Corp., the maker of the films based on Mario Puzo’s novel “The Godfather,” asked a judge to reject an attempt by the author’s estate to terminate its contract with the studio.
Viacom Inc. (VIAB:US)’s Paramount sued Anthony Puzo, Mario’s son and executor, in February to prevent the publication of a new sequel to “The Godfather,” claiming it wasn’t authorized. Puzo countersued in April to cancel the contract, saying Paramount had breached it.
“There is no affirmative obligation of Paramount’s that can be said to be breached here,” Richard Kendall, a lawyer for the studio, told U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan at a hearing today in Manhattan on a motion to dismiss Puzo’s claim. “All Paramount has done is assert and affirm its rights under the contract.”
The first “Godfather” film came out in 1972 and won Academy Awards for best picture and adapted screenplay, for which Puzo shared the credit. Francis Ford Coppola directed the three “Godfather” movies.
Paramount contends that it owns the book and movie rights. Anthony Puzo claims that the Los Angeles-based studio breached a 1969 agreement with his father. The contract reserved certain rights, including book publishing, for the author, the estate said in court filings. Mario Puzo died in 1999.
“If you demand rights you don’t have, you’re repudiating the contract,” Bertram Fields, a lawyer for Puzo’s estate, told the judge. “They called publishers and said, ‘Don’t publish this book. They don’t have the rights.’ That’s an actual breach.”
After the hearing, Fields told reporters that if the contract is terminated, Puzo’s heirs may approach other studios about making films based on the sequel novels. The judge said she will rule later on Paramount’s motion.
Fields said Mario Puzo received only $50,000 from Paramount for the first “Godfather” film. He said Puzo had contributed “$100 million in value” to Paramount and that the studio made $1 billion from the “Godfather” rights. “It saved the studio,” Fields said.
He also told reporters that Paramount paid Puzo millions of dollars for writing the screenplays for the second and third “Godfather” movies.
“The studio has tremendous respect and admiration for Mario Puzo, whose novel “The Godfather” was acquired in 1969 and helped spawn one of the most celebrated film trilogies of all time,” Dade Hayes, a spokesman for Paramount, said in an e-mailed statement. “As we have said before, we have an obligation to and will protect our copyright and trademark interests.”
Paramount said in its complaint that after Puzo died, the company agreed to allow Bertelsmann AG’s Random House to publish a single Godfather sequel, “The Godfather Returns,” which came out in 2004.
The estate published another novel, “The Godfather’s Revenge,” in 2006 without Paramount’s approval, the studio said. Paramount sued after the estate announced a plan to publish a third sequel, “The Family Corleone,” this year.
That sequel, written by Ed Falco, was published in May by Grand Central Publishing. Under terms of an interim settlement between Paramount and Puzo, proceeds from the book will be put in escrow pending the outcome of the litigation, according to court papers.
“The Family Corleone” reached No. 15 on the New York Times fiction best-seller list, said Nick Small, a publicist with Grand Central Publishing, a unit of Paris-based Hachette Livre SA. He declined to disclose its sales.
Paramount claimed Puzo’s estate infringed its copyright by publishing the novel and infringed its trademark with the design of the book.
The case is Paramount Pictures v. Puzo, 12-01268, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
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