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Paramount Pictures is demanding that the estate of author Mario Puzo not license any more literary sequels to The Godfather. The studio has filed a lawsuit against Anthony Ruzzo, the son and executor of his late father’s estate, and is seeking an injunction precluding any further alleged copyright and trademark infringement.
According to Paramount’s complaint, the studio gained a copyright interest in Puzo’s famed novel, The Godfather, in 1969, which granted it “the sole and exclusive right: to make and cause to be made literary and dramatic and other versions and adaptations of every kind and character.”
The agreement paved the way for the legendary Francis Ford Coppola film in 1972, as well as two movie sequels.
Puzo died in 1999, and after his death, the estate run by his son expressed an interest in “sequel novels” written by other authors.
Paramount says that in 2002, it agreed, and the parties entered into a “Memorandum of Understanding” that purportedly allowed the Puzo estate to grant Random House the right to publish one — “but only one” — sequel novel.
As a result, The Godfather Returns was published in 2004.
But then, Puzo estate went beyond the agreement, alleges Paramount, by allowing without its knowledge, a second sequel, entitled The Godfather’s Revenge, to be published in 2006. Sales were not good.
“Far from properly honoring the legacy of The Godfather,” says Paramount in its latest complaint, a copy of which was obtained by THR. “The unauthorized The Godfather’s Revenge tarnished it, and in the process, also misled consumers in connection with advertising, marketing, and promotional material related to the first and second sequel novels.”
Paramount believes that the Puzo estate is getting ready for a third sequel novel and is going to court to make sure that doesn’t happen. The book is reportedly titled The Family Corleone and scheduled to be released in July.
The story tells the tale of Vito Corleone’s rise to power in Depression-era New York. There’s some word that the work is adapted from an unpublished screenplay owned by the Puzo family and could be presented as a prequel to The Godfather. Some legal observers question Paramount’s hold over the work.
“A basic tenant of copyright law is that any unauthorized sequel is a ‘derivative work’ and as such is covered under the original copyright, allowing the holder of that copyright to sue to protect their rights,” says Tim Gorry at Eisner, Kahan & Gorry. “However, the fact that this is an adaptation of a screenplay written by the original copyright holder calls into question whether ‘The Family Corleone’ neatly fits into the ‘unauthorized’ category.”
Gorry adds that the federal court that handles this dispute “is going to have to examine timing of authorship to see if the screenplay from which the novel was adapted is outside the original copyright grant or if the novel is merely the adaptation of a work completed by the original rights holder that is covered under the grant of rights to Paramount.”
Puzo and Paramount have been at legal odds with each other before. In the early 1990s, the sides argued over revenue pay-outs from from audio-visual products embodying elements of the Godfather pictures. Even after the parties came to an understanding, years later, they were back in court over royalties from the successful Godfather line of video and computer games. That litigation was eventually settled too, but the bad blood between the two families obviously remains.
The Puzo estate couldn’t be reached for comment.
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