Philip K. Dick’s Estate Sues Moviemakers

     LOS ANGELES (CN) – Heirs of science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick claim the writers, producers and distributors of the movie “The Adjustment Bureau” cheated them of millions of dollars in royalties.
     The movie, released this year and based on Dick’s story, “Adjustment Team,” grossed $128 million at the box office and cost just $62 million to make, and has brought in another $10 million from DVD sales, according to the complaint.
     Laura Archer Dick Coelho sued in Federal Court as trustee of the Philip K. Dick Testamentary Trust.
     Named as defendants are Media Rights Capital, its subsidiary Oak Tree Entertainment, screenwriter and director George Nolfi and producer Michael Hackett.
     “This is a case about defendants who wrongfully want something for nothing,” the complaint states.
     Since Dick died in 1982, 10 of his stories have been made into feature films, including “The Adjustment Bureau,” “Blade Runner,” and “Minority Report.” Dick’s short story, “Adjustment Team” was published in Orbit Science Fiction magazine in 1954.
     “Defendants exploited the work of plaintiff Philip K. Dick Testamentary Trust (the ‘Trust’) by making a film called ‘The Adjustment Bureau’ that centered on shadowy figures who ‘adjust’ lives and events when things don’t go according to plan,” the complaint states. “Now, motivated solely by greed, defendants seek to establish themselves as a de facto ‘Adjustment Bureau’ of Hollywood. Using heavy handed means, they seek to ‘adjust’ agreements entered into long-ago agreed, ‘adjust’ determinations made long ago by the U.S. Copyright Office, and even ‘adjust’ history so as to hoard any and all monies rightfully earned by the estate of the man whose genius inspired what is indisputably a highly successful film.
     “Philip K. Dick was the visionary author of science fiction novels and stories that have provided the basis for nearly a dozen feature films, including the classic ‘Blade Runner’ and mega-hits like ‘Total Recall’ and ‘Minority Report.’ Dick died in 1982, leaving a library of than 200 written works that Hollywood continues to mine for box office gold. The author’s unique creative legacy is safeguarded by the Trust, which is overseen by Dick’s children.
     “In 2001 defendant Nolfi was a writer without a major screen credit to his name; defendant Michael Hackett had yet to produce his first feature film; and Media Rights Capital and its subsidiaries and affiliates did not even exist. That was the state of arrirs when Hackett handed Nolfi the Philip K. Dick story ‘Adjustment Team’ and suggested it would make a good movie.”
     Dock Coehlo claims that Nolfi negotiated a bargain-rate contract with the Trust that granted him an option to buy exclusive movie rights to “Adjustment Team.” In exchange, Nolfi gave his approval for the “Adjustment Team” chain of title and agreed to make substantial payments to the Trust if a movie was made, the complaint states.
     Nolfi paid the estate $75,000 to option the movie rights, agreed to a purchase price of $1 million to $1.8 million based on the film’s budget, and an additional $100,000 if it reached “break-even” status, according to the complaint.
     “Years passed. The Trust could have let the option expire. Instead, it granted Nofi one extension after another. In return, he agreed to improve the Trust’s compensation. If a motion picture ultimately resulted, the Trust would be rewarded for its perseverance,” the complaint states.
     “As Nolfi and Hackett attempted to develop ‘Adjustment Team,’ several more major motion pictures based on Dick works were released, and the name and reputation of Philip K. Dick grew in Hollywood. Nolfi and Hackett turned to the Trust, submitting draft after draft of the screenplay to receive creative comments, thereby gaining the unique insights of Dick’s heirs, who had long and valuable experience in translating their father’s visions to film.
     “Finally, in 2009, Nolfi and Hackett succeeded in getting their adaptation of ‘Adjustment Team’ set up at Media Rights Capital.”
     Universal Pictures agreed to distribute the film and Matt Damon was hired to star.
     “As with any studio-released project of this size – in such a high-risk business and in such an uncertain economic climate – scores of attorneys, agents and financiers were invariably involved along the way. It is inconceivable that each and every detail of the project would not have been fully vetted before it was greenlit and funds of the film’s investors were put at risk,” the complaint states.
     “In marketing the movie, the defendants took every opportunity to exploit the valuable imprimatur of the Trust’s blessing and the Dick name. As long as defendants had a use for the Trust, they did everything they could do to capitalize on the fame, the cachet, the brand of being BASED UPON A STORY BY PHILIP K. DICK.
     “‘The Adjustment Bureau’ was released worldwide in early 2011, By any meadure, it was a huge commercial success. Although the movie reportedly only cost $62 million to make, it took in over $128 million at the U.S. box office and internationally. … Even after the theatrical release was over, the revenues kept coming: aided by another round of publicity provided by Mr. Dick’s heirs, starting in June 2011, the movie sold $10 million in DVD sales in the United States alone, and unknown millions more overseas.
     “Now is the time when the defendants are supposed to honor their contractual obligations and pay the Trust the rest of what it is owed for its rights, its patience, its labors. But, having squeezed what they needed from the Trust, now the defendants seek to renege.
     “Only after the motion picture had been in theaters for a month did the defendants claim they ‘discovered’ an issue in the copyright chain of title for ‘Adjustment Team.’ They contend the copyright is invalid, and that ‘Adjustment Team’ was, at all relevant times, in the public domain. Under this absurd new theory in which they seek to act as a de facto ‘Adjustment Bureau,’ defendants argue they never needed the Trust. So brazen are defendants, they claim that they could have made and released the movie worldwide without having to pay anything for the rights to use and leverage the Philip K. Dick name and goodwill, and without having to pay anything for the benefits and contributions from the Dick heirs. So, despite having gotten their benefits of the bargain, defendants seek to deprive the Trust of its side of the deal.”
     The complaint adds: “On January 7, 2010, through their respective counsel, Nolfi contacted the Trust and inquired whether the U.S. copyright for ‘Adjustment Team’ might be in the public domain. Five days later, on January 12, 2010, the Wikipedia entry for ‘Adjustment Team’ was modified by an anonymous user to state that ‘Adjustment Team’ is in the public domain in the United States based on the 1954 publication in Orbit.”
     The Trust says these claims are bogus, that the defendants approved the chain of title back in 2001; that “the ‘publication’ on whihc their theory is based was unauthorized, meaning it had no impact on the copyright status of ‘Adjustment Team'”; that the U.S. Copyright Office granted the plaintiffs registration and renewal; and that even if the work is in the U.S. public domain, it is still under international copyright.
     The Trust seeks declaratory relief and compensatory damages for breach of contract, unjust enrichment, and accounting. It is represented by Justin Goldstein with Carlsmith Ball.

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