The dispute over the future of The Godfather franchise is moving to federal court in Manhattan as Paramount Pictures and heirs of the story’s author face off at a hearing Thursday. The son of The Godfather creator Mario Puzo wants a judge to end Paramount’s rights to make future Godfather films. Lawyers for Anthony Puzo said in court papers that the company breached its contract when it tried in December to stop publication of The Family Corleone, a Godfather sequel that was published in May.
Paramount, which is owned by Viacom Inc., sued the late author’s estate in March, seeking a declaration that it automatically owned book publishing rights in any book that was a sequel to The Godfather. Paramount said in court papers that in 1969, it purchased from Puzo all rights and copyright interests in The Godfather, including all “literary” rights and rights to use any characters created for the story in “other works.” Mario Puzo died in 1999.
Paramount said the only right left to the Puzo estate was the right to publish the original novel The Godfather and to publish versions and adaptations.
But the estate’s lawyers disagree. They said the agreement excluded book publication rights from the rights that Paramount could acquire. They said Paramount also got nasty in trying to prevent publication of the new sequel by contacting the publishers of the book and insisting that neither the publishers nor the estate had any right to publish it.
The estate asked the court to declare that the estate owns the book publishing rights to any sequel, that Paramount cannot prevent the estate from publishing the book and that Paramount does not automatically have film rights to new books. “The rights repudiated and violated by Paramount were of fundamental and critical importance to Puzo and were of the essence of the 1969 agreement,” the lawyers wrote. “More than once, Puzo said, `Books are my world,’” explaining why Paramount didn’t get book rights and wouldn’t get them.”