Friedkin, Blatty sue WB over ‘Exorcist’

Author claims studio reneged on oral agreement

Director William Friedkin and author William Peter Blatty have filed a copyright suit against Warner Bros. in their continuing legal battle over rights to an updated version of 1973 horror classic “The Exorcist.”

In a complaint filed late last week in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, Blatty and Friedkin claim that Warners violated an oral agreement to pay Friedkin part of the new version’s gross receipts as compensation for his work on “The Exorcist — The Version You’ve Never Seen,” which involved the addition of 11 minutes of new footage and reworking of other material.

A Warners spokesman said the studio had not seen the suit and could not comment.

Friedkin and Blatty are represented by Bert Fields and Lawrence Iser of Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman Machtinger & Kinsella.

Suit alleges that Friedkin and Blatty did not sign work-for-hire certificates for their work on the new version and were not paid. Nevertheless, Warners registered the new version with the copyright office identifying itself as the sole author of the new film. (Blatty is the co-owner of the copyright in the original film, according to the complaint.)

In May, Friedkin and Blatty sued Warners in L.A. Superior Court, claiming they were cheated out of profits on the new “Exorcist” under a series of television licensing agreements. In the state court claim, they alleged that the film was licensed to CBS at substantially below-market rates and to Warners’ sister company, Turner Broadcasting, for no fee at all. Suit also raised audit claims.

According to the current suit, Warners subsequently repudiated the agreement with Friedkin promising him a percentage of gross profits in retaliation for filing the lawsuit. In response, Friedkin and Blatty claim they are terminating whatever rights Warners has in the new version.

In the suit, they seek unspecified damages and claim violation of the U.S. Copyright Act and breach of contract. They also seek an injunction barring Warners from distributing the film.