James Franco Settles Lawsuit Over Charles Bukowski Biopic

A copyright claim had been made by an individual who says he owns film rights to Bukowski's semi-autobiographical novel
 

James Franco has figured out a way to resolve a lawsuit over Bukowski, possibly leading to the release of the film about German-born author Charles Bukowski, once called the "laureate of American lowlife."

The actor-filmmaker-artist-professor was taken to California federal court in April by Cyril Humphris, who claimed to have film rights on Bukowski's semi-autobiographical novel, Ham on Rye. Franco's film was alleged to be infringing upon those rights.

In media interviews, Franco has expressed fondness for Ham on Rye, about a boy growing up in working-class Los Angeles in the 1940s who copes with various coming-of-age cruelties. He also said he was adapting it, though he told other interviewers that Bukowski was not an adaptation of Ham on Rye.

The lawsuit set up a potential showdown between a filmmaker doing a biography and a rights-owner of an autobiography. Facts can't be copyrighted, but the arrangement of facts in a creative manner can be protected. The key to the dispute would have been comparing Franco's Bukowski with Bukowski's own expression of his childhood and any imaginative flourishes therein. In court papers, Franco's lawyers said they wanted to investigate the factual basis for Ham on Rye and his creation of the novel. They also wanted to know how Humphris obtained an unpublished, undistributed and incomplete version of Franco's film.

Humphris found it all very suspicious.

According to his complaint, Humphris had entered into a deal in 2009 with Franco to allow the actor to develop a film based on the novel, but that the rights had terminated by the end of 2010. A project proceeded anyway, and despite Franco's denial that the film was based on Ham on Rye, Humphris' lawsuit alleged the film "incorporates entire scenes, including substantially their dialogue, from the Novel."

Franco's own court papers asserted various defenses including fair use, lack of substantial similarity, no copyrightable subject matter, independent creation and doubts on Humphris' ownership.

The dispute ended on Wednesday, when the parties submitted paperwork to dismiss the case with prejudice. According to an attorney in the case, the terms of the settlement are confidential.

Bukowski hasn't picked up a distributor yet, though the dismissal of the lawsuit will probably help on that front.

Email: Eriq.Gardner@THR.com
Twitter: @eriqgardner

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