Gravity lawsuit update

(For background on my Gravity lawsuit, read my January 31 blogpost)

For a second time, the court has concluded I have not stated a viable claim for breach of contract against Warner Bros. or New Line. My 1999 contract with New Line Productions guaranteed me “based upon” credit, a production bonus, and back-end profits if a motion picture is ever made based on my novel Gravity, which is about a female astronaut trapped aboard the International Space Station after the rest of her crew is killed.  Warner Bros. acquired New Line in 2008 and owns and controls its assets, including the film rights to my novel Gravity. Despite our arguments that the two companies are inextricably bound together, the court ruled that Warner Bros. is not liable for New Line’s contractual obligations to me.

Nor can I sue for copyright infringement, as my Gravity film rights are owned by New Line. The only entity with the legal standing to sue for copyright infringement is New Line – and they will certainly not sue their parent company, Warner Bros.

This ruling allows me no possibility of remedy.  Even if the Warner Bros.’s film had copied my story word for word, there would be nothing I could do about it.

The court’s latest decision focused solely on the Warner Bros./ New Line corporate relationship.   It did not take into consideration my novel or Cuaron’s film or the similarities between them.

It did not address my third-act rewrite of Michael Goldenberg’s Gravity script, in which I depicted satellite debris colliding with the International Space Station, the destruction of ISS, and the sole surviving female astronaut adrift in her EVA suit.

It did not address our evidence that Alfonso Cuaron was attached to direct my Gravity project in 2000, or the fact there were executives involved with both my Gravity project and Cuaron’s film.

The ruling was made without affording my attorneys any opportunity for oral argument. We were never given an opportunity for discovery.  We have been stopped at the courthouse door, unable to present the evidence we’ve amassed about the direct development links between my novel Gravity and Cuaron’s film Gravity.

The court has again granted me the opportunity to file an amended complaint, for which I am grateful. I am not by nature a crusader, but the consequences of this ruling could be devastating to all writers working in any media, including film, television, and publishing.

As one entertainment attorney (unconnected with my lawsuit) observed:

What is troubling about this case is that Gerritsen … attempted to protect herself through not only a standard assignment provision, but also required that New Line execute and deliver a Continuing Guaranty in which it guaranteed the “full and faithful performance” by Katja of all of Katja’s obligations under the Contract.Despite these precautions, “by virtue of a written agreement dated January 1, 2010, all intellectual property acquired by New Line at any time (in perpetuity) is deemed to be automatically transferred to and owned by WB. WB paid no consideration to New Line for entering into this agreement, nor is WB obligated to pay any consideration in the future when intellectual property rights are acquired by New Line and automatically assigned to WB. The express purpose of this agreement “is solely to vest in WB the benefits of specific rights-related provisions of Content Agreements” and per the agreement, “WB assumes no obligations under such . . . Agreements.”

With Sony, Dream Works Animation, Lions Gate, and MGMjust a few of the possible players currently looking to acquire or be acquired, the ‘gravity’ of this situation should not be overlooked or downplayed.


5 replies
  1. david roughton
    david roughton says:

    “by virtue of a written agreement dated January 1, 2010, all intellectual property acquired by New Line at any time (in perpetuity) is deemed to be automatically transferred to and owned by WB”.

    Now, I’m NO LAWYER, but surely if WB acquired New Line Productions AND (subsequently) ALL of their rights, then they are LEGALLY obliged to honour those rights & NLP’s contractual obligations.

    Otherwise, any future contracts should give the AUTHOR of the work, the right to cancel said contract in the event of the co-signatory being purchased by an unrelated third party corporation.

    (nearly 48 years old, Is it TOO LATE to attend LAW SCHOOL? Haha)

  2. rurwin
    rurwin says:

    I’m no lawyer either, but it seems to me that the problem may be that you are not forcing the contract with New Line into the case. The Gnu Public License works as well as it does because it forces the defendant to invoke it. It’s the only license they have so they have to admit its validity. It seems to me that if you claimed copyright violation (in addition to contract breakage) WB would have to invoke your contract with New Line and thereby admit that they were bound by it.
    Whatever, just my mumblings from a different country far away. Keep your chin up.

  3. Ancient Reader
    Ancient Reader says:

    This is my take, a legal refute, on Friday’s so-called “conclusory” from U.S. District Judge Margaret Morrow.

    1. Tess Gerritsen optionied her own “Gravity” work in 1999 to New Line/Katja, later acquired by Warner Brothers, which was and still is a legal transaction of an intangible property. The value of the contract did not dissolve. Katja and New Line failed to account for their liabilities in an ‘alter ego” relationship. If Warner Bros bought or acquired optioned property with standing contractual obligations, it was their responsibility to know that. Owners of goods must show proof of ownership before a sale.

    2. Katja and New Line had possession of Tess Gerritsen’s optioned work and sold her out, behind her back.

    3. Many U.S. District Judges are not cognitively sharp and are therefore unable to make adequate distinctions in certain complex cases. For example, look at the following statement by the judge: “the court cannot agree that WB’s exercise of control over Katja and New Line plausibly suggests that it intended to assume all of Katja’s and New Line’s liabilities and obligations following the purported consolidation.”

    “Plausibly suggests that it intended to assume all?”

    The issue here is not about what the defendant “INTENDED to assume.” It’s about whether or not WB assumed it.

    4. The judge’s own words demonstrates an intellectual deficiency to execute fairness in this case. Thus she is unqualified to preside over this cause and I would move to recuse her for lacking the required acumen for legal vision and logical reasoning.

    5. Based on what Judge Morrow asked for from an amendment to the complaint, she should have denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss and allowed discovery to proceed, and for a jury to decide the facts and merit in case. There is no reason to amend the case as it is.

    Is the WB giving some cash under the table?

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