'The Conjuring' Keeps Spooking Up New Lawsuits

The Conjuring Ron Livingston on Stairs - H 2013
New Line Cinema

The Conjuring Ron Livingston on Stairs - H 2013

Last year, The Conjuring came out to good reviews and an excellent box-office take. The supernatural thriller grossed $318 million worldwide, and hopes are high for sequels. But the success for Warner Bros. hasn't come without legal spooks. The latest is a lawsuit filed against the studio Wednesday from Tony DeRosa-Grund's Evergreen Media Group, which acquired the rights to the case files of real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren before licensing the first film.

What started as a seemingly modest dispute over whether Evergreen Media Group had reserved the right to use The Conjuring title for television has now evolved into the kind of fight that might haunt lawyers doing chain-of-title clearance. In short, who really owns the paranormal stories of the Warrens?

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DeRosa-Grund believes it's him.

The Warrens produced some 8,000 case files during their careers.

In 2009, Evergreen says, DeRosa-Grund made a series of deals with the Warrens for rights to exploit them.

The following year, Evergreen and New Line Production (a WB subsidiary) made an agreement for a film version of some of those case files. According to Evergreen, the deal covered "just 25 of the approximately 8,000, which included the 'Perron Farmhouse' Case File, the 'Annabelle' Case File, and 'The Enfield Poltergeist' Case File."

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Now, New Line is producing The Conjuring 2: The Enfield Poltergeist  and Annabelle. Last month, Evergreen sued Warner Bros. for allegedly stiffing De-Rosa-Grund on payment and withholding producing credit and participation on these forthcoming film projects. The plaintiff demands an injunction while Warner Bros. maintains that the claims be adjudicated in arbitration.

Now comes a second lawsuit. This one not only targets Warner Bros., but also Lorraine Warren, and explores the issue of whether there's even more here than meets the eye.

There's talk in the latest complaint that New Line is attempting to circumvent the 2010 agreements with Evergreen "by attempting to claim that their productions based upon the 'Annabelle' and 'The Enfield Poltergeist' Case Files are somehow based upon a parallel set of rights to those owned by Evergreen and Mr. DeRosa-Grund, namely, rights in connection with chapters from The Demonologist acquired from Mrs. Warren and/or [Tony] Spera and Graymalkin Media."

The Demonologist is a 1980 book by Gerald Brittle about the Warrens. It covers, among other things, the "Annabelle" incident (involving a demonic Raggedy Ann doll terrorizing a family) as well as the "Enfield Voices" one (involving a single mother and her children who witness some weird things at home).

It was originally released by Prentice Hall, but recently, Spera, Warren's son-in-law, is said to have "taken charge" of The Demonologist and changed publishers to Graymalkin. This has apparently led to a fight between Brittle and Graymalkin over whether the publisher change violated the terms of a "Collaboration Agreement" between the Warrens and Brittle. It brings up all sorts of co-ownership issues and the ability to unilaterally license.

For full details on what Evergreen and Brittle are claiming, here's the complaint.

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But long story short, the plaintiffs say the owners of the book only have "limited publishing rights," while DeRosa-Grund maintains authority over life rights of the Warrens. They say "Mrs. Warren, and by extension Mr. Spera and Graymalkin Media, have no rights in connection with The Demonologist that can be exploited by New Line and/or Warner Bros. without Mr. Brittle's permission.... Moreover, Mr. Brittle has previously granted an option to Evergreen to acquire his rights to further exploit The Demonologist."

Among the latest claims is that Warner Bros is tortiously interfering in the various contracts covering The Demonologist as as well as violating copyright on the book. As for Warren, she, too, is now facing claims of not honoring her agreement on the book. The complaint, while detailed in parts, leaves a lot of probably necessary details nearly naked, like how Warner Bros. is truly hampering the contractual relationships and what expression is really being infringed. Nevertheless, in a press release, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs is comparing the situation to "another Watchmen-like dispute where there is the very real possibility of [defendants] losing all of their rights in connection with The Conjuring franchise."

Warner Bros. says it has not been served with the lawsuit.

E-mail: Eriq.Gardner@THR.com
Twitter: @eriqgardner