Warner Bros. Aims to Shoot Down Author's 'Gravity' Lawsuit

The studio says it couldn't possibly have breached Tess Gerritsen's contract and argues that her 1999 "Gravity" book isn't similar to its megasuccessful film.

If best-selling author Tess Gerritsen hopes to prevail in a $10 million lawsuit against Warner Bros. over the blockbuster film Gravity, she'll first need to dodge the studio's motion to dismiss.

In April, Gerritsen filed claims over the Alfonso Cuaron-directed motion picture, alleging that it was derived from her 1999 book by the same name. The author once sold film rights to her Gravity to Katja, which was then a subsidiary of New Line, later acquired by Warner Bros.

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When she sold the rights to the book, described as featuring "a female medical doctor/astronaut who is stranded alone aboard a space station after a series of disasters kill the rest of the crew," Gerritsen got $1 million, plus she was contractually promised a $500,000 production bonus, screen credit and 2.5 percent of defined net proceeds if the movie version of her book ever got made. But a deal with Katja isn't the same as a deal with Warner Bros., asserts the studio in recent court papers (read in full here) demanding an end to the litigation.

Warners' lawyers say the "fundamental defect" with her lawsuit claiming breach of contract is that "Katja neither 'produced' nor 'released' [Gravity] — and nor did New Line. By her own admission, Warner Bros. produced and released the Movie, and Warner Bros. is not a party to either 1999 agreement."

The lawsuit from Gerritsen, best known for work that inspired TNT's Rizzoli & Isles (which is produced by a Warner subsidiary) now heads toward the part of the legal galaxy where such supernova concepts as "alter egos" and "agency" are explored.

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In her lawsuit, Gerritsen raises all sorts of reason for sticking Warner Bros. with contractual liability — for example, as part of the 2008 New Line acquisition, the rights and duties of Katja and New Line were allegedly transferred to Warner Bros. — but the studio counters that these beliefs are all conclusory. The studio says that the author can't support her belief that New Line and Katja are "shells" through which Warner Bros. does business.

"Indeed, the Assignment Agreement that Gerritsen adverts to in her complaint — between Warner Bros. and New Line — is a prime example of this," writes the defendant's lawyers. "When New Line became an indirect subsidiary of Warner Bros., New Line kept all of the IP rights and contracts it acquired prior to 2010. A company that holds such valuable rights is the exact opposite of an empty shell."

If the plaintiff does manage to chart the sun with its orbiting planets, she'll hardly be free and clear of the rocks hurtling toward her ship.

Warners' lawyers also signal they'll be disputing that the movie is indeed based on her book. "There are no aliens, government conspiracy theories, gory medical scenes, or tales of lovers reconciling in Gravity the Movie," states the motion to dismiss.

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And as for word in the lawsuit that Cuaron was once attached to the Gerritsen Gravity Project, Warner Bros. responds that Gerritsen "pleads almost no specifics concerning his access, if any, to her Book or how he, in fact, based the Movie on her Book or notes."

Email: Eriq.Gardner@THR.com
Twitter: @eriqgardner