Has the copyright on Philip K. Dick's short story that became the film The Adjustment Bureau been adjusted out of existence?
The late sci-fi author's trust has sued Media Rights Capital and filmmaker George Nolfi claiming they are refusing to pay roylties from the 2011 film starring Matt Damon because they claim the story is in the public domain.
The suit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, claims Nolfi approached the estate in 2001 seeking rights to The Adjustment Team, Dick's 1953 story about a group of men who "adjust" the lives of ordinary citizens. The estate agreed to license the story at a "bargain" rate of $25,000 per year, but in exchange, Nolfi said he would make "substantial payments" to the trust if the movie ever happened. These payments totalled several million dollars when budget and box office bonuses are factored in, according to the suit.
Eight years later, Nolfi set the movie up as a writing and directing vehicle for himself at Media Rights Capital with Damon starring and Universal Pictures releasing. But a month after the film was released in March 2011, Nolfi and MRC allegedly said they discovered "an issue with the copyright chain of title for Adjustment Team" that the defendants now claim allows them to make the movie without paying the trust anything. The suit calls this theory absurd: "So, despite having gotten their benefits of the bargain, defendants seek to deprive the trust of its side of the deal," the complaint alleges.
The trust claims the filmmaker and MRC capitalized on the value of Dick's name and negotiated a deal in good faith, and thus should be required to pay up.
"Using heavy-handed means, they seek to 'adjust' agreements entered into long ago, '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," the complaint states.
The defendants are MRC II Distribution Company, MRC Holdings, Oaktree Entertainment, Nolfi and Michael Hackett. Universal is not a defendant.
The suit alleges causes of action for breach of contract, money had and received, quantum meruit, unjust enrichment, as well as declaratory relief as to copyright rights and rights under contract.
We've reached out to Nolfi reps and MRC for comment.
Trust lawyer Justin Goldstein also has released the following statement:
Philip K. Dick’s trust and heirs were partners every step of the way in lending time, support and cooperation during the development, production, marketing and release of “The Adjustment Bureau."
Almost immediately after the movie was released and the money started to roll in, the filmmakers and Media Rights Capital attempted to cut the Trust out entirely, and grab every last dollar for themselves. To try to justify this greedy move, they claim that contracts and copyright filings which they, their lawyers, and agents reviewed and approved -- and which the U.S. Copyright Office blessed not once but twice -- are now wrong.
On behalf of the millions of fans worldwide of this visionary science fiction author, it truly saddens us that the matter had to reach this point.