Philip K. Dick Estate Slams 'Adjustment Bureau' Producers Over Dueling Lawsuits

14 BIZ NEXT BIG THING Adjustment Bureau
Andy Schwartz/Universal Studios

The Adjustment Bureau certainly has taken a strange path in a dispute between the estate of late author Philip K. Dick and producers of the 2011 film. Last October, a lawsuit was filed. Then in February, the lawsuit was dropped. In April, the dispute reappeared with two dueling lawsuits -- one in state court and one in federal court. Now, the estate of the sci-fi legend is attemping to make the producers' lawsuit adjusted out of existence.

Since that's probably confusing as hell, let's rewind in proper Dick fashion.

Dick's estate first sued Adjustment Bureau producer Media Rights Capital and filmmaker George Nolfi claiming it hadn't received millions of dollars in royalties from the movie based on the author's 1950s story The Adjustment Team. The work was licensed in 2001, with Nolfi purportedly representing that he would make "substantial payments" to the trust if the movie ever got made. 

After a judge threw out key claims, the lawsuit was dropped. According to MRC, that happened against its will. The judge was primed to make a ruling about whether The Adjustment Team was in the public domain, possibly meaning that no royalties were due, but Dick's estate withdrew its claims in federal court before that happened. "We were disappointed when the Trust dropped its lawsuit before the Court could reach a decision," MRC told The Hollywood Reporter.

It turned out that the dismissal was merely preparation for a new lawsuit by Dick's estate, this time in state court over breach of contract with millions of dollars at stake on the Matt Damon film.

A day later, MRC responded by filing its own lawsuit against the estate, looking to resolve the question of whether Dick's story was published in 1954 instead of 1955, meaning that, under federal law, the story fell into public domain before the Dick estate filed for a copyright renewal in 1983.

Dick's estate now wants a federal judge to toss MRC's lawsuit.

"The only reason for the Declaratory Relief Action is to anticipate one defense that the Plaintiffs here plan to assert to the state court breach of contract cause of action," writes Russell Frackman, representing the estate in the motion.

Dick's estate says producers aren't alleging that they are under any copyright infringement threat. With emphasis, the judge is told, "The Trust is seeking to enforce the Adjustment Team Agreement, not terminate it or sue for copyright infringement."

It's not unusual for a party to argue that disputes are pre-empted by copyright law in attempting to get claims predicated on alleged contract breaches into federal court, but in this case, Dick's estate argues that a Los Angeles Superior Court judge is perfectly capable of handling the issue of copyright validity, if that's a defense producers wish to raise. "Not every case involving copyrights can or must be brought in federal court," it says.

The fate of the case will be determined after a scheduled July 30 hearing on the matter.

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