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The right to do a prequel or sequel to Breakfast at Tiffany’s, or even a television series inspired by the 1961 film classic, is the subject of a new lawsuit filed on Wednesday against Paramount Pictures in Los Angeles Superior Court.
A few years before he died, Truman Capote, who wrote the 1958 novella that serves as the movie’s basis, set up a charitable trust. Now, Alan Schwartz, the trustee of the charity, alleges that rights to the property reverted to Capote’s Executor upon his death in 1984 and then was transferred to the charity.
“In 1991, Plaintiff and the Capote Estate entered into an agreement with Paramount, whereby Paramount optioned certain sequel and prequel rights, among others, with respect to the film,” states the complaint. “The agreement provided that, if a motion picture was not produced within a certain amount of time, the rights would revert back to Plaintiff.”
Since no movie was made, Schwartz claims ownership. According to the complaint, Paramount contests.
The studio “claims that no reversion occurred, that it had the right, but not the obligation, to produce the film, and that it purchased this right for $300,000.00,” continues the complaint. “What is most inconceivable, however, is that Paramount claims that whether or not it had an actual obligation to exploit Plaintiff’s valuable film rights depended exclusively on the timing of its acquisition payment.”
The plaintiff, represented by attorney Ed McPherson, takes the position that rights reverted because under the old copyright law, if the author died during the initial 28-year term, the right to renew copyright passed to statutory heirs. In some ways, the dispute recalls the fight over Hitchcock’s Rear Window that went all the way up to the Supreme Court in 1990. According to this suit, because of the high court’s decision, Paramount was subsequently facing the “devastating prospect of forever losing the right to exploit” its original Breakfast at Tiffany’s and initially took the position that Capote’s successors were “legally obligated” to negotiate a new deal. That, according to the complaint, led to the 1991 agreement that the plaintiff believes has opened the door to reclaiming sequel rights.
The suit further details negotiations over the property this past January where the Capote charity has been engaging with producers about a potential Breakfast at Tiffany’s television series. The charity says it has gotten numerous bids of hundreds of thousands of dollars plus backend too. But Paramount has raised objections and negotiations have come to a halt. According to the complaint (read here), Paramount chairman Jim Gianoulos prefers a feature project over a TV series, has a screenplay, and has an intention to sell the project to a streaming platform.
Paramount hasn’t immediately returned a request for a response, but the suit figures to settle whether the studio really has an unfettered right to produce a new film about the property.
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