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Judge Throws Out Tess Gerritsen’s ‘Gravity’ Suit Against Warner Bros.

A federal judge has dismissed author Tess Gerritsen’s breach of contract suit against Warner Bros., in which she claims that “Gravity” is actually based on her novel of the same name, and that she should receive screen credit and a percentage of the profits.

U.S. District Judge Margaret Morrow dismissed the suit on the grounds that Gerritsen had failed to show that the studio had assumed obligations of New Line and Katja Motion Picture Corp.

Morrow wrote that Gerritsen lacked facts “supporting the conclusions that Katja and New Line were ‘completely dominated and controlled’ by WB, and that Katja was complicit in New Line’s business strategy.”

Morrow wrote that Gerritsen could file an amended complaint, but she could not make new claims.

“We are very gratified by the court’s ruling as there is no merit to these claims,” a spokesman for Warner Bros. said. “As the plaintiff herself has admitted, ‘Yea, ‘Gravity’ is a great film, but it’s not based on my book.”

Gerritsen’s attorney, Glen Kulik, noted via email that the court said that they needed to include more facts in their pleading relative to the relationship between Warner Bros. and New Line.

“This happens quite often in litigation, and now we need to go ahead and file an amended complaint which corrects the technical deficiencies using the court’s decision as our road map,” he wrote. “I do not think that will be hard to do as we have learned a great deal more about the Warner Bros./New Line relationship since the original complaint was filed.”

In her suit, Gerritsen said that 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 adaption, 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,” owned the feature rights to her book after it took control of New Line in 2008.

The suit sought damages of at least $10 million, which would include a percentage of net proceeds.

When the movie was released in 2013, Gerritsen’s fans reportedly sent her notes of congratulations on the movie, assuming that it was based on the book. Yet she said in an interview with the Greencastle Banner Graphic, a local Indiana paper, that the movie is a “great film, but it’s not based on my book.” Kulik later released a statement saying that she had received new information about the development of “Gravity” and became convinced that the “similarities are not merely coincidental.”

Morrow said that she did not consider the quote from the interview in making her decision.

Update: Gerritsen wrote a blog post in which she noted that her lawsuit was not a case of copyright infringement, but breach of contract.

“Warner Bros., through its ownership of New Line, also controls the film rights to my book. They had every right to make the movie — but they claim they have no obligation to honor my contract with New Line,” Gerritsen wrote.

“It means that any writer who sold film rights to New Line Productions can have those rights freely exploited by its parent company Warner Bros. — and the original contract you signed with New Line will not be honored. Warner Bros. can make a movie based on your book but you will get no credit, even though your contract called for it.”

 

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