A California District Court dismissed breach of contract and breach of guarantee claims brought against Warner Bros. by Terry Gerritsen, author of a novel entitled Gravity.
The novel, published by Simon & Schuster, features a female doctor/astronaut who struggles to survive after she is stranded alone aboard a space station after the rest of the crew is killed.
Gerritsen’s claim is not one of the usual “the studio stole my idea” lawsuits that often pop up after any successful movie comes out.
As reported by the New York Times, Gerritsen is a best-selling author of 24 novels, including the crime series upon which the Warner series, “Rizzoli & Isles” is based.
The Gravity Novel
Katja Motion Picture Corporation, a wholly-owned subsidiary of New Line, bought the film rights to the novel Gravity in 1999 for $1 million before the book was even published. The contract provides that if a movie based on the book was produced, Katja would pay Gerritsen a production bonus of $250,000, plus 2.5% of the movies’ net proceeds.
The contract also provided that Gerritsen would receive on-screen and advertising credits that read “based on the book by Terry Gerritsen.”
New Line executed a guarantee of Katja’s performance under the contract.
Gerritsen alleged that she learned later that, while her screenplay was being developed by Katja and New Line, writer and director Alfonso Cuarón was attached to the project.
To help with the development of the screenplay, Gerritsen said she wrote additional scenes in which satellite debris collided with the International Space Station, leaving the female astronaut character adrift in her spacesuit.
In 2008, Warner Bros. acquired control of both New Line and Katja.
The Gravity Movie
Alfonso Cuarón and his son, Jonas Cuarón, wrote a screenplay called Gravity that also involved a female astronaut/doctor adrift in her spacesuit after the International Space Station was destroyed by satellite debris. The Cuaróns assigned the rights in their script to Warner, and production of the film based on the script began in or about 2011, with Alfonso Cuarón as director. The film was released in 2013, earned more than $700 million, and won seven Oscars.
Gerritsen’s official blog for October 7, 2013 includes an entry that states:
I’ve been peeved that my book GRAVITY was never made into a film (20th Century Fox owns the film rights). How I wished that Cuarón had told my story instead, but the movie he did make was a masterpiece of suspense. Go go go to see it!
Gerritsen’s attorney released a statement saying that his client had obtained new information about the development of the Gravity movie and had become convinced that the similarities between the two works were not merely coincidental.
The Court’s Decision
The court dismissed Gerritsen’s complaint against Warner Bros. because her allegations did not support the inference either that a) Katja (now part of Warner Bros.) produced the film or that b) Warner was a party to the original contract between Gerritsen and Katja. The court rejected Gerritsen’s arguments that Warner was a successor-in-interest to Katja.
In the wake of her court loss, Gerritsen took to her blog to reargue her case in the court of public opinion, saying that the court’s decision means that:
any parent film company who acquires a studio, and also acquires that studio’s intellectual properties, can exploit those properties without having to acknowledge or compensate the original authors.
Gerritsen said that she planned to file an amended complaint.
Copyright and Contracts
Gerritsen says that her lawsuit isn’t about copyright infringement and she hasn’t alleged any copyright violation claims. However, in general, an unlicensed derivative work based on copyrighted material would be considered a violation of the author’s copyright.
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Photo Attribution: By NASA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.