Paramount Sues Puzos Over 'Godfather' Sequel

     MANHATTAN (CN) - Paramount Pictures claims Mario Puzo's estate violated its rights to "The Godfather" by publishing an unauthorized sequel, "The Godfather's Revenge," which "received mediocre reviews and suffered weak sales."
     Paramount claims the sequel tarnished the integrity and reputation of "The Godfather" trilogy, "one of the most acclaimed and beloved artistic works of the past 50 years," and misled consumers by using the "Godfather" trademarks in advertising.
     Paramount sued Mario Puzo's son, Anthony Puzo, as executor of the estate, in Federal Court.
     Paramount claims it bought the rights to Puzo's novel "The Godfather" in November 1969. It claims Puzo granted it exclusive copyrights, including the right to make or commission "literary and dramatic and other versions and adaptations of every kind and character of said work or any part or parts thereof and/or any or all of the characters created therein ..."
     Paramount adapted Puzo's novel into the highly acclaimed movie trilogy directed by Francis Ford Coppola.
     "Puzo died in 1999. After his death, the Puzo Estate expressed interest in publishing additional 'Godfather' 'sequel novels', to be written by new authors," the complaint states.
     "In 2002, in an attempt to accommodate the Puzo estate while preserving the integrity of Paramount's 'Godfather' franchise, Paramount and the Puzo estate entered into a memorandum of agreement, under which the parties acknowledged that Paramount had no objection to the Puzo estate granting Random House the right to publish one (but only one) 'sequel novel' to 'The Godfather.' The memorandum of agreement also stated that 'The estate contends that it shall have the right to publish subsequent novels after the sequel novel without the consent of [Paramount] and [Paramount] contends to the contrary. Both parties reserve their rights and contentions with respect to subsequent sequels. Notwithstanding the foregoing, the estate acknowledges that [Paramount] is the sole and exclusive owner of all motion picture, television and allied rights in and to the novel [i.e., "The Godfather"] and the sequel novel.' A first sequel novel, entitled 'The Godfather Returns,' was published in 2004 pursuant to said memorandum of agreement.
     "In 2006, without Paramount's knowledge or authorization, the Puzo estate published a second sequel novel, entitled 'The Godfather's Revenge,' which received mediocre reviews and suffered weak sales. Far from properly honoring the legacy of 'The Godfather,' the unauthorized 'The Godfather's Revenge' tarnished it, and in the process, also misled consumers. ..." (Parentheses and brackets in complaint).
     Paramount claims the Puzo estate used its "Godfather" trademarks to advertise the sequels, without Paramount's authorization.
     "The Puzo estate is, on information and belief, aware of Paramount's ownership of the Godfather marks," the complaint states. "Yet it did not seek, and has not sought, permission from Paramount before using Paramount's protected trademark interests for commercial gain."
     The complaint adds: "Paramount owns the copyright, and all rights, title, and interest thereto, in the novel 'The Godfather,' including the right to create derivative works thereto. The 1969 agreements between Paramount and Puzo reserved to Paramount all rights in 'The Godfather' novel except the publication rights in that original novel. Puzo did not reserve any rights to publish a sequel to 'The Godfather.' Thus, after execution of the 1969 agreements, Puzo retained no rights of any kind in the Godfather novel except for the right to publish that original novel in book form.
     "In its 2002 memorandum of agreement with the Puzo estate, Paramount agreed not to object to the Puzo estate's publication of a single sequel novel. However, the memorandum of agreement did not grant the Puzo estate the right to publish subsequent sequels or to create any other derivative works based upon 'The Godfather.'
     "After the execution of the 2002 memorandum of agreement, among its other rights, Paramount continued to own all rights in and to 'The Godfather' novel except for (a) Puzo's reserved right to publish the original novel and (b) the Puzo estate's right to publish a single Paramount-authorized sequel novel.
     "In addition to its copyright in the novel 'The Godfather,' Paramount also owns the entire copyright in the films 'The Godfather,' 'The Godfather Part II,' and 'The Godfather Part III.' Collectively, Paramount's rights in the novel 'The Godfather' and the three 'The Godfather' films are referred to herein as the 'Godfather works.'
     Paramount claims the Puzo estate infringed upon its copyright interests and intends to do so again by publishing another unauthorized sequel, "The Family Corleone."
     It claims the Puzo estate's use of the "Godfather" trademarks in connection with the unauthorized sequels may confuse customers, damage perception about the "Godfather" works and hurt Paramount's reputation.
     Paramount seeks compensatory and punitive damages for copyright and trademark infringement, unfair competition and false designation of origin. It wants the Puzo estate enjoined from publishing the unauthorized sequels and from using the "Godfather" trademarks.
     Paramount is represented by G. Robert Gage Jr. with Gage Spencer & Fleming.