Judge says he waited too long to sue

A Los Angeles superior court judge on Friday summarily dismissed a legal claim by director and producer Francis Ford Coppola against the estate of late scientist-writer Carl Sagan and Warner Bros. over rights to the 1997 sci-fi film “Contact,” which was based on a novel by Sagan.

Warners and Ann Druyan, Sagan’s widow, said they were gratified with the judge’s decision to dismiss the suit.

Coppola will appeal that decision to a higher court, according to attorneys.

In the suit, filed in 1996, Coppola claimed that Sagan’s novel was actually based on a treatment the pair had developed for a television program back in the 1970s, to be called “First Contact.” Under that development agreement, the pair were to split proceeds from the project and from any novel Sagan would write. The television program was never produced, but in 1985, Sagan published “Contact” and sold the film rights to Warner Bros. for the movie released last summer.

The Coppola suit sought at least $250,000 in compensatory damages and a share of the proceeds from the movie version of “Contact.” But on Friday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ricardo Torres dismissed the complaint.

The judge agreed that Sagan had violated some terms of the contract, but he also said Coppola had waited too long to file his suit, and that the contract might not be enforceable as it was written, according to Robert Chapman, Coppola’s attorney.

The “Contact” suit was one of two legal disputes between Coppola and Warner Bros. Coppola is also suing the studio for failing to produce a live-action film based on the children’s classic tale “Pinocchio,” and for preventing him from making the film at another studio. That dispute is set to go to trial May 11.

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