Mario Puzo Estate Wants To Cancel 'The Godfather' Contract with Paramount in Countersuit

The Godfather Novel Cover Art 2011

The estate of Mario Puzo, who wrote the novel that was adapted into the classic Francis Ford Coppola film, The Godfather, has fired back at Paramount Pictures' attempts to stop a new licensed literary sequel. On Monday, the Puzo estate filed an answer and counterclaim in New York federal court that alleges Paramount doesn't have as much hold on the Godfather franchise as the studio asserts. In fact, the Puzo estate now wishes to terminate its original 1969 rights grant to Paramount, which would have huge implications well beyond mere books.

Paramount filed its own lawsuit last month that sought an injunction to prevent the publishing of a book reportedly titled The Family Corleone, about Vito Corleone's rise to power in Depression-era New York, scheduled to be released in July.

The studio alleged in its lawsuit that the previous Godfather book sequel had tarnished the legacy of the famous mafia story and that it had agreements with the Puzo heirs not to come out with any more new sequels.

The Puzo estate, in its answer Monday, hit back at Paramount, denying many of the studio's claims, including that the Godfather 3 film was highly acclaimed.

But the center of controversy is the nature of the agreements made between the parties during the past half-century.

Paramount had previously asserted that it had gained most of the rights on the franchise, but the Puzo estate says that isn't true. The studio's wish to attain book rights was an offer that could be refused, according to the defendant.

Specifically, the estate says the 1967 rights agreement expressly excluded and reserved "book publishing rights" for Puzo, who died in 1999.

Two years later, the parties are said to have entered into a written contract of adhesion for certain rights, but that language was deleted from the contract that would have given Paramount the right "to publish said work and/or any versions or adaptations thereof, and to vend copies thereof."

Paramount allegedly knew about this "when it falsely pleaded the supposed content of that agreement," according to the estate.

The estate's legal filing stresses the fact that in those old deals, Puzo reserved and retained the right to publish books including characters from The Godfather in similar or new situations.

And as for a deal made about a decade ago, which supposedly allowed the Puzo estate to grant Random House the right to publish one -- "but only one" -- sequel novel, the estate's lawyers now say that "Paramount's self-serving motivation was to coerce Mario Puzo's children into ceding to Paramount the motion picture rights in the first sequel novel without payment."

Paramount is now being countersued for breach of contract and tortuous interference.

The Puzo estate seeks the right to cancel and terminate its 1969 deal, which could cause uncertainty surrounding the studio's ongoing enjoyment of its lucrative franchise. Additionally, the estate is seeking in excess of $10 million in damages. The estate is being represented in court by Motty Shulman at Boies, Schiller & Flexner.

The estate also is being counseled by Bert Fields, who put out this statement Tuesday:

"Mario Puzo brought vast wealth to Paramount at a time when they desperately needed it. Now that he’s gone, Paramount’s trying to deprive his children of the rights he specifically reserved. I promised Mario I’d protect his kids from this kind of reprehensible conduct. Paramount wanted a war, and they’re going to get one – only the stakes will be much higher than they thought.”

Paramount has responded to the latest development.

“Paramount has tremendous respect and admiration for Mario Puzo and his legacy," said a studio spokesperson. "We are only seeking to adhere to the terms of the deal that were agreed upon by Mr. Puzo himself.”


Twitter: @eriqgardner