Paramount Pictures and the son of Mario Puzo, the creator of The Godfather, are in a turf war over the literary rights to the franchise, reports the Associated Press. To catch everyone up: Anthony Puzo is the heir to his dad's estate (Mario died in July 1999). This May, The Family Corleone, a prequel to The Godfather, was published, written by Ed Falco based on pages extracted from the elder Puzo's Godfather screenplays. Amazon reviewers seem generally fond of the book. One writes, "Falco's book proves to be that missing link, the one that tells the full story of all of the secrets that are only whispered about in The Godfather." So, they're happy; there's a little more Godfather in the world for everyone.
But Paramount Pictures is not. In March, the company owned by Viacom sued Puzo's estate, "seeking a declaration that it automatically owned book publishing rights in any book that was a sequel to The Godfather." As the A.P. story explains, Paramount claims that it purchased all rights and copyright interests, including literary rights and rights to use any characters from the franchise in other works, back in 1969 from Puzo, and that the only right the Puzo estate still holds is the right to publish the original novel. In 2002, they state, they agreed to allow a single sequel novel, as acknowledged in a Memorandum of Agreement. In their claim, Paramount digs at the "mediocre reviews and weak sales" of The Godfather's Revenge, another sequel, which they call unauthorized, saying it didn't properly honor The Godfather legacy. They're asking for a declaration of infringement, a temporary restraining order, an injunction, and damages.
Puzo and his lawyers say, though, that book rights were never on the table—that Mario had retained rights to publish books featuring the Godfather characters in "new and different situations"—and further, that Paramount took a distinctly below-board approach in trying to block The Family Corleone by telling the book's publisher, Grand Central, that they didn't have the right to publish it and that that right was not the estate's to give. Via the A.P.,
“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.”
According to Joshua L. Weinstein, writing for The Wrap in March, the Puzo estate is seeking in excess of $10 million in damages in their countersuit against Paramount. How much is a Godfather sequel worth, anyway? Perhaps it depends on who has to sleep with that horse head.
The legal battle kicks off with a hearing in Manhattan federal court today.