Industry & Advocacy News
July 1, 2015
Bestselling author and AG member Tess Gerritsen has announced she’s abandoning her lawsuit against Warner Bros., Katja Motion Picture Corp., and New Line Productions regarding the film rights to her 1999 novel Gravity. The 2013 film written and directed by Alfonso Cuaron shares not only a title but similar characters, settings, themes, and main plot lines with her book: in both, a female astronaut is stranded without her crew aboard a damaged International Space Station and struggles to accept her fate.
Gerritsen sold the film rights to Katja and New Line in 1999, but as far as she knew, the movie never made it out of development. Her agreement with Katja and New Line stipulated that if a movie were made from the book, Gerritsen would receive “based upon” credit, a bonus, and a share of film’s profits. New Line was acquired by Warner Bros. in 2008, and shortly thereafter Cuaron wrote the screenplay for his 2014 film of the same title, Gravity.
“I noted the similarities,” Gerritsen later wrote of the film, “but I had no evidence of any connection between Cuaron and my project.” Then, in February 2014, Gerritsen discovered that Cuaron actually had been attached to the adaptation of her novel back in 2000 when the Katja/New Line project was still alive. On April 30, 2014, Gerritsen announced her lawsuit in a press release stating that she had been “convinced the similarities are not merely coincidental.”
Gerritsen sued for breach of contract arising from the companies’ failure to give her the “based upon” credit and compensation the contract guaranteed her. She did not sue for copyright infringement because she had irrevocably sold all film rights to New Line. The court, however, rejected her contract and related claims–twice, under the original complaint and an amended complaint–finding that Gerritsen had not pled sufficient facts to establish that either New Line or Katja had breached their agreement with her, or that Warner Bros., which produced the film, had assumed New Line’s and Katja’s contractual obligations under their agreement with Gerritsen.
For Gerritsen, the saga was especially frustrating because her contract with New Line and Katja, in addition to promising her credit and compensation, contained a standard assignment provision guaranteeing that these obligations would survive any assignment of the contract to an acquiring company, as well as a guarantee that New Line would fulfill its obligations even if the Gravity rights passed to another studio.
“Even those robust provisions in my contract did not protect me when New Line was absorbed into Warner Bros.,” Gerritsen wrote recently on her blog. “In this era of endless studio mergers and acquisitions, how can we writers protect ourselves from those who purchase our intellectual property rights and make promises but later voice no objection when their parent companies or affiliates take control and circumvent those promises?”