‘Gravity’ Lawsuit: Tess Gerritsen Says She’s Dropping Case Against Warner Bros.

Tess Gerritsen Dropping 'Gravity' Lawsuit Against

Author Tess Gerritsen says she is giving up her legal fight against Warner Bros. and New Line, after a federal judge twice dismissed her lawsuit claiming that “Gravity” was a ripoff of her novel of the same title.

On her blog, Gerritsen wrote that the judge’s recent ruling “leaves absolutely no remedy for a writer in my situation. Based on the court’s most recent decision, in which it went so far as to make the extraordinary statement that it finds no inequity in this situation, I have no faith in the system or that my case will ever be heard by a jury.

She added, “The brutal financial and emotional costs of continuing the fight for years to come, against adversaries who have unlimited resources and are willing to use them against me, and the unlikelihood that we will ever be allowed in this courtroom to present our evidence, have made me decide to end my efforts.”

U.S. District Judge Margaret Morrow dismissed the lawsuit in January but invited Gerritsen’s legal team to file an amendment complaint.

Morrow again dismissed Gerritsen’s lawsuit earlier this month, concluding that she had “failed adequately to allege breach of contract and breach of guaranty claims against defendants on a direct liability theory. The complaint similarly does not allege plausible claims against WB on successor-in-interest, alter ego, and agency liability theory.”

The case was unusual in that it was not a copyright case, but one for breach of contract.

In her suit, Gerritsen said in 1999 she had sold the rights to her novel “Gravity” to Katja, a shell company for New Line.

Like the movie, Gerritsen’s novel “Gravity,” also published in 1999, features a female medical doctor/astronaut who is stranded alone on a space station after the rest of the crew is killed in a series of disasters.

Gerritsen contended that the terms of her sale of her novel “Gravity” to Katja called for her to receive a production bonus of $500,000, 2.5% of the “defined net proceeds” from the movie, and screen credit. She was paid $1 million when Katja purchased motion picture rights in March 1999, just months before the book was published. Her suit claims that director Alfonso Cuaron was attached to the screen adaptation, but she was not told of it at the time.

Some time after 2002, the suit claims, Cuaron and his son, Jonas, wrote a screenplay called “Gravity.” She claimed that Warner Bros., the studio behind “Gravity,” became owner of the feature rights to her book after it took control of New Line in 2008, and owed her screen credit and a percentage of the net proceeds.

But Morrow concluded that she had not shown that when Warner Bros. took over New Line in 2008, they assumed liabilities for their contract with her.

“Despite my legal team’s best efforts to demonstrate unity of interest between Warner Bros. and its subsidiary New Line, the court has ruled twice that Warner Bros. need not honor and is not responsible for New Line’s contractual obligations to me,” Gerritsen wrote. “The court also dismissed my Breach of Continuing Guaranty claim against New Line.

“We were not given the opportunity to present our arguments in person. We were not allowed to go to discovery, so we have no access to corporate documents which might shed light on the relationship between Warner Bros. and New Line.”

She thanked her attorneys, Glen Kulik, Natalie Mutz and Patricia Brum of Kulik Gottesman & Siegel, and said that they were willing to continue to press the case, but “the decision is mine alone.”

She wrote, “In this era of endless studio mergers and acquisitions, how can we writers protect ourselves from those who purchase our intellectual property rights and make promises but later voice no objection when their parent companies or affiliates take control and circumvent those promises? I’m afraid the answer from this court is clear: we cannot.”

 

 

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  1. Martin says:

    This lawsuit was always a farce and she had no case. Here’s the background that most people ignore.

    • MBK says:

      The link to the CinemaBlend article on this case appeared in your comment that was sent to my feed, but it doesn’t above. The article makes it clear why Gerritsen’s breach of contract claims were on shaky ground from the start and why a copyright infringement claim was not viable. Apparently the novel is significantly different from Cuaron’s screenplay, and Gerritsen is on record with Tweets that acknowledge she views the two properties as different stories : “the movie has absolutely no connection to my book” and “How I wished that Cuaron had told my story instead.” She made the second comment after seeing the movie. Both works have the same name, and both have a stranded female astronaut as the main character, but the sources of conflict and cascade of complications are not similar. Gerritsen also states that 20th Century Fox, not WB, now owns the screen rights to her novel. So this doesn’t really seem to be a case of an abusive corporate monolith stealing from and steamrolling defenseless creative talent. The quality of reporting in the CinemaBlend piece is vastly superior to Variety’s.

  2. Lily says:

    It’s sad when corporate entitled douches get away with stealing from a hard working artist because they have unlike resource and the government allows it to happen.

  3. Dollface says:

    Curious judgement. With merger protections supposedly written into the contract, it seems like a no-brainer. Warner Brothers is legally bound to the contract. This judge obviously sides with the power player. Suspicious. I would file again for copyright infringement. Pay the fees to join the Writers Guild and have them help fight this battle. Unions have power. The film box office percentage pay off will be worth it in the end. It’s business. It’s contracts. It’s legality.

  4. First one commenter asks a great question, “Where is the Authors Guild in this?” That all depends on one if the author is a member (I am a member of the Guild) and two her lawsuit was not for copyright infringement it was for breach of contract. The author was paid one million dollars for the rights to her novel in 1999 then contractual promises were it this is not a copyright case. Sadly the author sold her rights and when Warner Brothers purchased New Line the contract was null void. This is a very, very, common situation in business and contract law.

    When a business purchases another company in order for the buyer to pay out claims against creditors, (which the author was a creditor of New Line) they have to have explicit language that states they are taking to assets and liabilities of a company… very, very rarely in my over twenty years in commercial litigation as a B2B collection agency partner have I seen assets and liabilities taken by a buyer. I have been involved in literally thousands of cases just like this as a business owner for my clients and in almost all cases (with the exception of settlements agreements) the cases are tossed by the courts.

    Someone else asked could the author have protected herself from this? The short answer is yes, if she and her attorneys at the time of drafting the contract had put in clauses that covered acquisition of her rights by a third party she would have most likely been protected and her rights would have transferred to the buyer. I do feel form this suit though that the author has a copyright infringement case against the writer and director who it seems blatantly stolen a huge part of her storyline and that she should be able to bring a copyright lawsuit against the director and his son. The lesson for authors to learn here… get the money up front that you are happy with and sell a hundred percent of the rights. If you are going to option your novel or book, make sure that you have copyright protections in the agreement as well as transferability clauses so that if the studio or buyer gets acquired your rights transfer to the purchaser and if that is refused in the negotiations… walk away there are other fish in the sea.

  5. timothyjhallinan says:

    Where the hell was the Writers Guild in all this?

  6. MBK says:

    Why doesn’t Variety’s coverage of this story include any attempt to get a WB legal spokesperson to explain WB’s position regarding this case and why they think this judgement is fair. Or at least Variety’s assessment of how and why WB was able to defeat Gerritsen’s legal team. When a company acquires another company, is the acquiring company not required by law to honor the liabilities of the company acquired? Why was discovery denied? This appears to be an injustice that needs to be rectified. How about an independent legal analyst’s perspective to make sense of this story? Also, if the screenplay’s story is so similar to Gerritsen’s (apparently the same plot line and even the same name) why did Gerritsen’s legal team forego the pursuit of copyright infringement? Just mentioning that “the case was unusual” is glibly inadequate. Some more robust journalism would be appreciated.

  7. Mike says:

    Typical corperate bullshit,,, they steal from. Employees everyday someway ..lol

  8. Boodah says:

    Her quote would indicate that the studio found a way to circumvent the contract. The opportunity cost of the lawsuit probably outpaced any financial settlement.

  9. DougW says:

    Art Buckwald got some money from Paramount in a settlement re “Coming To America” in 1990. Other than that I can’t remember reading about any writer successfully suing a studio over a film property. Make of that what you will.

  10. Raza says:

    She had a contract which was not honored completely, it seems. Can writers add this type of protection in their contracts going forward? I think “famous” writers can, but new writers be damned. Sadly, this was a “famous” writer and it appears she may have been shafted out of the full contract. All we have is her side. Sadly, we won’t know the whole story because she’s dropping the case. I guess, like she said, there is no protection.

    • PG says:

      Surely even inherited contracts for things that are then made must be honored…? Or if not, re-negotiated…

      Perhaps the suggestion here is that the basic contractual terms and the additional promises were separate agreements and/or weren’t suitably written down..?

      How odd, and quite troubling (even if she did, it sounds, get $1M.)

      • PhilG says:

        The Washington Post reports that “Gerritsen said her contact with New Line had a clause requiring any other company that acquired the rights to “Gravity” to fulfill the financial obligations to Gerritsen,” so that’s interesting.

        I suppose there’s an argument that no-one would have reviewed the small print of every outstanding contract before concluding a merger, but I can’t believe that WB wouldn’t have had someone read the contracts before making the movie – their right to make it would surely have been critical. So at that point, there should surely have been contact to discuss revised terms, if the new owners felt the original agreement (which they may or may not be bound by) to be excessive.

        Curious judgment.

    • gus says:

      The problem is judges have no clue about the creative process or how Hollywood really works. Judges look at these cases like most outsiders do, they just see a writer bringing a lawsuit and they lean toward it being unwarranted. Judges usually side with the bigger player. Creative types will never get a fair case against corporations.

  11. Mac N. Tosh says:

    one less frivolous lawsuit in the world

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