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Paramount and children of 'Godfather' author clash in court

August 30, 2012|By Meg James
  • The family of Mario Puzo, who died in 1999 at age 78, is fighting Paramount Pictures for the rights to the author's "Godfather" books.
The family of Mario Puzo, who died in 1999 at age 78, is fighting Paramount… (Evan Kafka / Associated…)

The children of Mario Puzo, author of the famed "Godfather" series, are trying to severe their family's more than 40-year association with Paramount Pictures after a bitter squabble that erupted earlier this year.

On Thursday, Hollywood attorney Bert Fields, who is representing the Puzo children, told a federal judge in New York that Paramount had violated its 1969 contract with Puzo when the movie studio went to court this year to prevent the May publication of a new sequel, "The Family Corleone."

The movie studio claims that Puzo's heirs lacked the rights to publish the book.

Puzo died in 1999.  Fields said the dust-up has prompted Puzo's children, a daughter and two sons, to seek termination of their dealings with Paramount, which has the exclusive right to produce movies based on the author's works.

"Paramount is in material breach, and we want to terminate their rights to stop them from making future pictures," Fields said in a phone interview after the hearing. "We want to free ourselves to make pictures at another studio."

Paramount is part of Viacom Inc., which is controlled by media mogul Sumner Redstone.

“The studio has tremendous respect and admiration for Mario Puzo, whose novel 'The Godfather' was acquired in 1969, and helped spawn one of the most celebrated film trilogies of all time," Paramount said in a written statement. "As we have said before, we have an obligation to and will protect our copyright and trademark interests.”

U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan did not rule on the matter Thursday.

In March, Paramount sued Puzo's son, Anthony Puzo, who heads the author's estate, asking for a declaration that the studio owned the publishing rights to any book that was a sequel to "The Godfather." Paramount contends that it acquired those rights as part of its 1969 deal with Puzo.

The original agreement paid Puzo $50,000 and he kept book publishing rights, Fields said. The author went on to write other screenplays and was paid millions of dollars by the studio.

"Mario Puzo saved Paramount 40 years ago with 'The Godfather,' " Fields said. "He was paid $50,000 by the studio, and his works made Paramount $1 billion.  And how do they repay him? They are suing his kids."

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Viacom earnings plummet; Paramount Pictures revenue down 29%

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