Dick estate gets stiffed

Do writers dream of electric royalties?

The family estate of science fiction writer Philip K Dick has dropped a vexing lawsuit against movie producers Media Rights Capital and filmmaker George Nolfi, the team behind the film The Adjustment Bureau.

In October the Philip K Dick family launched a legal attack against The Adjustment Bureau team, which wouldn't agree to pay royalties from the 2011 film starring Matt Damon.

The film producers claimed that they were not liable for a kind of royalty payment because the story that formed the foundation of the film was “in the public domain.” Philip K Dick wrote the short story The Adjustment Team in 1954, a tale about a group of men who tinker aka ‘adjust’ the lives of ordinary people.

The Hollywood Reporter reveals that the Dick estate claimed Nolfi approached it in 2001 seeking rights to The Adjustment Team. The estate agreed to license the story, with Nolfi saying he would make "substantial payments" to the trust if the movie ever got made.

Some years later, Nolfi and MRC paid the estate $1.6m to exercise an option to produce the movie for Universal Pictures. However, a month after the film was released in March 2011, Nolfi and MRC made a claim that because The Adjustment Team was in the public domain, the should be able to make the movie without paying the trust anything.

In February, a court dismissed all of the Dick estate's contract-related claims without prejudice, leaving only the copyright matter, and saying that it didn't have jurisdiction over the copyright claims.

The issue of royalty compensation and copyright revolves around when the Adjustment Team story was first published. The film-makers assert that the story had first been published in an periodical called Orbit Science Fiction in September 1954 but the Dick estate claims that the 1954 publication was a mistake and that the actual first publication came in 1955. The difference in publication timing is crucial because it would mean that under US federal law, the story fell into public domain before the Dick estate filed for a copyright renewal in 1983.

The Dick estate’s suit claimed: "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 US 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 Adjustment Bureau film is understood to have made about $128m worldwide, on a production budget of $50.2m.

The lawyer representing the Dick estate, Justin Goldstein, said: “The judge’s ruling and our decision to dismiss the remaining portions of the federal case had nothing to do with the merits of any of the claims. The judge only concluded that state court is the appropriate venue for the dispute.” ®

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