Director Sues Paramount And Universal After Both Deny Knowing Who Holds The Rights To His Film

from the ownership-culture dept

Rob Hyndman points us to the bizarre story of director William Friedkin, perhaps most well known for directing both The French Connection and The Exorcist in the early 1970s. However, right now he’s in a bit of a legal dispute with both Paramount and Universal studios, who co-produced the film that came after both of those films, called Sorcerer. While not a box office success, apparently there’s a fair bit of interest in the film these days, and there have been requests for Friedkin to screen it, and for him to appear and talk about it. However, Paramount and Universal both seem confused about who holds what rights — and while both seem to claim some rights to the film, neither seems to know what those are (and at least Paramount claims it no longer can find a print of the film, though Friedkin says he has his own). Friedkin finally decided to sue to force the companies to clarify who holds what rights. There’s also the separate issue that, despite a profit participation deal with the film, neither studio has actually provided him with an accounting statement in 20 years. From the filing, which is embedded below:

Friedkin is the director and producer of the 1977 motion picture Sorcerer…. Friedkin is also a profit participant in the Picture, and owns a print. Although Defendants Paramount… and Universal… have previously had certain rights to exploit the Picture in the United States, each has recently disclaimed rights to exploit the Picture in the United States, and admitted ignorance as to who, if anyone, currently has such rights. Bafflingly, however, defendants persist in denying that Friedkin has any rights to exploit the Picture. Friedkin has filed this action to obtain a declaration as to the parties’ respective rights in the Picture.

It does seem fairly crazy that such an issue should end up in court, and it appears the court thinks so too. While the original was filed in California State Court, recently it was removed to federal court by the defendants, and the court immediately directed them to its alternative dispute resolution (ADR) program in the hopes that this gets settled outside of litigation. Either way, it seems like a pretty crazy situation where the studios deny the filmmaker the right to show the film, while at the same time refusing to explain what rights they do have in the film.

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Companies: paramount, universal studios

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Comments on “Director Sues Paramount And Universal After Both Deny Knowing Who Holds The Rights To His Film”

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ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re:

And then they expect Google to be able to magically determine what’s infringing and what’s not.

Agree, though I think it might be that they don’t want Google to determine anything other than to just block what they don’t want. At least, that is the picture I get when hearing them whine. They just want Google to hand them the capability of blocking whatever they don’t like, whether it be independent, parody, or their competitors. And the sad thing is that they will probably get it, and abuse it as they seem to be the best at doing.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Possession is 9/10 of the law

“Depends. If there are cops around that will listen to you, then that might be true. If there aren’t, and you are willing to use force to keep possession, then it is true.”

Since you’re talking about using force to keep something that’s not yours, then in terms of legality, it’s still not true.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Possession is 9/10 of the law

Since you’re talking about using force to keep something that’s not yours, then in terms of legality, it’s still not true

What do you think law is? Law is the use of force to enact a social constraint. If it wasn’t for force, law would be nothing.

However, the non-snarky answer to your comment: possession being 9/10ths of the law is not a misconception. It is an old English common law which basically means that those who claim possession of something who don’t have possession of that something have the burden of proof while those who have that something don’t.

It is true, even in current laws in most states in the US that unless you can prove you own something, it defaults to the person who possesses it. This is certainly true in cases of auto-theft or robbery. If you take something I am possession of through force or intimidation, you have robbed me even though I may not be the owner of that item (hence store clerks are victims as well as owners for robberies at stores.) If someone lends me a car, and you take it from me, I am still a victim even though I was not the registered owner of the vehicle.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Possession is 9/10 of the law

Your link neither backs up what you’re saying nor does it prove what I am saying is wrong. If you actually read it, you’ll notice that what I said agrees with what the link says, and the link nowhere says that “possession is 9/10ths of the law” is a misconception or that it is not true. It merely points out that it isn’t a law, but more a common belief.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Possession is 9/10 of the law

This is getting tiresome… it is merely an old and oft quoted and misunderstood adage, it is not “law”. I hope for your sake you never buy a car that turns out to be stolen.

It may be tiresome for you being wrong, but whatever. It is true that the adage is misunderstood, but it isn’t wrong. English common law is a law, it is just not one that we base our law on (our laws are statue based, not common law based, but you will find some places that have taken common law and turned them into statues (i.e. domestic partnership/laws dealing with common law marriage/laws dealing with spousal abuse/etc.)

If you buy a car on good faith, then it isn’t receiving stolen property (you can be charged with anything, but most prosecutors would throw it out because they know they can’t prove it in court.) Sure if it turns out later to be stolen, then you’ll lose the car, but at that point you can go back and sue the person you bought it from because you bought the car in good faith. Things like escrow exist because of the fact that some people may lie and you cannot control the entire chain of purchase (you cannot be responsible for a dealer faking the documentation, only for what you did or didn’t do.)

If someone walks up to you and tries selling you a car with dodgy paperwork for a great deal, and any normal person would realize there is something wrong, and you still buy it anyway, then you didn’t buy the car in good faith and could (depending on a court,) be successfully prosecuted for receiving stolen property. Ignorance of law won’t get you anywhere in law, but ignorance of fact can.

Gwiz (profile) says:

Re: Possession is 9/10 of the law

If neither can produce a signed document giving them rights and Friedkin has the only print, then case closed. ๐Ÿ˜‰

I would agree. This is kind of like when facing a foreclosure on your home. If you demand that the institution initiating the foreclosure “produce the note” before proceeding you can, at the very least, buy a six month reprieve. In a lot of cases they can’t even track the original paperwork down since a lot of mortgages were bundled and sold repeatedly without the actual paperwork being forwarded along with the loan.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I’ve still not seen the film, to me embarrassment, though it is certainly on my ever-growing to-watch list.

But, this is a great example of why I think studios are morons for building their businesses with so much emphasis on opening weekends. They still do it, even though there’s a great many more ancillary markets than existed back in those days.

Almost Anonymous (profile) says:

It's all about incentive

Either way, it seems like a pretty crazy situation where the studios deny the filmmaker the right to show the film, while at the same time refusing to explain what rights they do have in the film.

The problem is that the studios have no incentive to allow him to show the film, but in their twisted minds they do have incentive to not allow it: they are concerned that any sign of weakness or permissiveness will open the floodgates to wholesale copyright infringement. Also, the studios have an ironclad “What’s in it for me?” attitude, and since neither studio seems to even know who holds the actual rights, they can’t even make DVDs to capitalize on the director’s screenings. So the safe thing to do is just deny (in the minds of twisted movie studio execs).

Ninja (profile) says:

Things usually get ugly when you have a single label/studio sharing the rights with the artist but this guy was unfortunate enough to share with TWO studios. Double the copyright, double the fun!

Also, good thing we share like crazy nowadays. Can you imagine in 40 years (when the copyright term will have been expanded retroactively to something near a millennium) and any1 try to get that “OMFG-AWESOMELY-CREATIVE-AND-ORIGINAL” Transformers 8 copy (with plenty originality) and the studios “oops, we lost the blu-ray with all the master recordings”. At least our culture won’t be lost forever. Disclaimer: better examples may apply.

nospacesorspecialcharacters (profile) says:

Surely it would be a less expensive venture to publish and be damned, rather than exploring the possibility via litigation?

Similar costs involved except publishing means everyone benefits at the same time.

If it was my creative work I’d rather see it pirated than lost down the memory hole thanks to 2 ambivalent corporates, but that’s just me, I’m crazy reckless like that.

Killer_Tofu (profile) says:

Best interests

Best interests of the artists in their hearts my ass …

If they had best interests of the artist at heart, they would just tell him they are unsure what they control, just go ahead and do it, and here is a signed document saying we relinquish our possession of whatever back to you.

They certainly had long enough to recoup whatever money they wanted from the film. Just let the creator do what he wants now.

Anonymous Coward says:

it seems to be a case of ‘we’re going to stop you from making any money in case we lose out. the fact that we dont even know if we have any rights to the film although we have taken all proceeds ourselves up til now and have never paid you anything, is irrelevant’. it’s like when the industries issue a ‘take down notice’. they just do it, they dont know if the requested file is infringing or not or even one of theirs!

Al Bert (profile) says:

same thing

It seems to me that they’d likely have the same reluctance to allow screening of a film to which they knew they had never held any rights. It has little to do with the actual legality of the rights holding, but simply the ultimate sense of entitlement that prevents them from allowing anyone else to have control over any creative process perceptibly related to their protected market.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Wages of Fear

My guess would be for 2 reasons. First, the film is a remake of a French film by that name. Secondly, its release would have been at around the same time as Star Wars in the US. I’ve read some tales of woe, where people went to see the film assuming that it was a fantasy/sci-fi movie from the title Sorcerer, and were inevitably disappointed. I’d presume the title was changed to avoid confusing Australian audiences in the same way.

PaulT (profile) says:

Two of my biggest issues with copyright, right here in a nutshell.

First, copyright is far too long. Unless you’re talking about something like Dumbo, which has been a constant success and always owned by one studio, which also still exists, it can be a nightmare. The nightmare gets worse the longer it goes on for. Eventually, you reach a situation where quality pieces of art are unable to be released legally to the public, largely because Disney wants to keep getting paid. This is unacceptable, but thankfully we have the pirates to keep these works alive while they cannot be legally released.

Secondly, it’s a great example of how utterly ridiculous attempts to place liability on 3rd parties really is. If the director of the film and 2 of the biggest studios in Hollywood can’t agree on what they legally own, how the hell can YouTube possibly know? Yet, the morons around here insist it’s easy…

Plus, of course, while this dispute is ongoing, a legit DVD release will probably not be forthcoming, so at least one studio is “losing money to the pirates”. At a quick glance, it appears that Universal did release a region 1 DVD, but it’s not available in region 2. I wonder, if Paramount claim all the rights, would Universal be attacked for “piracy” by releasing the movie for profit despite not really having all the rights? I doubt it somehow, double standards at their best.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“I wonder, if Paramount claim all the rights, would Universal be attacked for “piracy” by releasing the movie for profit despite not really having all the rights? I doubt it somehow, double standards at their best.”

No, the ‘offending’ studio would probably pay a ‘license’ for the movie and then claim the license fee as more money lost due to ‘piracy.’

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