Warner Bros. Asks Court to Ghost $900 Million 'Conjuring' Lawsuit

Conjuring 2 Publicity Still 1 H 2016
Courtesy of New Line Cinema

Warner Bros. won't be scared by a big-ticket lawsuit claiming its Conjuring franchise infringes on an author's rights to the tales of two paranormal investigators.

Gerald Brittle says the horror movie franchise infringes on his 1980 book The Demonologist, which tells the stories of Ed and Lorraine Warren. He sued Warners and New Line in November, and filed a more than 300-page amended complaint in March that upped his damages claim to $900 million.

New Line moved to dismiss the suit on Tuesday, and attorney Benjamin Rottenborn wasted no time in getting to his point, opening his brief with a direct attack on Brittle and his claims.

"Gerald Brittle’s latest lawsuit — seeking some $1 billion for himself from The Conjuring movies — is no more meritorious than the spate of other cases that he and Tony DeRosa-Grund have brought against New Line and a range of other defendants over the past three years," writes Rottenborn. "Among other infirmities, Brittle’s latest claims fail as a matter of copyright law, are time barred, preempted by the Copyright Act, and contradicted by Brittle’s judicially noticeable admissions."

DeRosa-Grund fought his own heated legal battle with the studio over his purported rights in the Warrens' life story, which he licensed to the studio for The Conjuring. In 2010, Lorraine Warren's lawyer contacted New Line claiming that her signature on the agreements that DeRosa-Grund relied upon had been forged. So, the studio cut out the middle man. "To remove any cloud on its title, New Line made an agreement directly with Lorraine — pursuant to which she granted New Line all her life rights and 75 cases from the Warrens’ case file library," writes Rittenborn. 

New Line says DeRosa-Grund recruited Brittle to support his case, and the author submitted a 2014 declaration that clearly states the film isn't related to his book. The studio argues he's now claiming the exact opposite: that The Conjuring is a "striking copy" of his book.

"Over 100 minutes of the movie is devoted to their 'Perron Farmhouse case' and the haunting of the Perrons’ home in Rhode Island," writes Rittenborn. "The Perron case is never mentioned in the Book, and, thus, it is unsurprising that Brittle swore under oath in 2014 that The Conjuring movie and the Book are 'not related.'"

However, The Conjuring isn't the only film at issue here. Brittle also claims The Conjuring 2 and Annabelle, and the unreleased Annabelle: Creation, The Nun and The Conjuring 3 infringe on his exclusive rights to create derivative works based on the Warrens' cases.

Lawsuits involving films and books based on real-life events face a tough hurdle in proving the work is protectable under copyright while the underlying historical facts aren't — but here, Brittle argues that isn't the case because he later learned the Warrens were lying about their experiences.

New Line doesn't directly address the theory, instead arguing that "[t]he Book purports to be a true account of events in the Warrens’ lives and was marketed as such for decades" and "no one has a monopoly to tell stories or make movies about true-life figures and events."

Further, New Line argues that the collaboration agreement between the Warrens and Brittle doesn't assign rights he purports to have, merely the rights to use their vocal recollections in his book. "[W]hile the Warrens’ actual written case files, photographs, audio recordings, or other writings might be subject to copyright protection, the Collaboration Agreement mentions none of them," writes Rittenborn. "Indeed, for Brittle to prevail, he has to rewrite the words of the Collaboration Agreement (without Lorraine even being named as a party here) to have the two words 'vocal recollections' also include 'the Warren cases, case files, and related materials ... for all of the Warren’s investigations,' and he needs the word 'Work,' defined as 'the Book,' to mean motion pictures also."

If district judge John A. Gibney, Jr. doesn't dismiss the case, New Line and Warner Bros. are asking the court to stay it pending the outcome of an arbitration with Brittle involving overlapping allegations and claims. "[A] decision in New Line’s favor by the JAMS Arbitrator in Los Angeles would vitiate all of Brittle’s claims here," writes Rottenborn. "Furthermore, a stay would conserve resources, avoid the risk of conflicting rulings and would not prejudice Brittle given that he waited over three years to bring this lawsuit."

Parent company Time Warner and James Wan Productions were voluntarily dismissed from the complaint by Brittle this week. The full memo in support of Warners and New Line's motion to dismiss is posted below. Warner Bros. is represented by Matthew Kline, Lauren Rakow and Laura Lorenz of O'Melveny & Myers.