A federal judge has ruled that Warren Beatty retains movie and TV rights to Dick Tracy in a long-running dispute over Tribune Media Services’ efforts to regain control of the comicbook character.
Beatty appeared as Dick Tracy in a high-profile movie more than two decades ago, but his agreement with Tribune allowed him to retain rights as long as he met certain requirements that kept the character in the media.
In 2006, Tribune gave Beatty notice that it intended to take back rights if he did not commence principal photography on a movie, TV series or special within two years. Beatty asked for an extension of time to commence a sequel, which Tribune rejected; in November 2008, he instead started to make a 30-minute segment to air on Turner Classic Movies for a Dick Tracy marathon. The segment, in which Beatty was dressed up as Dick Tracy and answered questions from a film critic, never aired as the rights were tied up in litigation.
Tribune had argued that the segment did not qualify as a “special” and that it should get the rights back. But U.S. District Judge Dean D. Pregerson, in granting summary judgment, said the actor’s contract with Tribune never defined the type of special that should be made or even that it be shown, only that principal photography begin.
Tribune “may be frustrated that (Beatty) has not used his rights to Dick Tracy for more profitable ends,” Pregerson wrote. “The court, however, cannot ‘create for the parties a contract they did not make,’ and the court ‘cannot insert language that one party now wishes were there.’ ”
Beatty’s victory means that he is free to pursue Dick Tracy projects and that the TCM segment can be shown, said Bert Fields, who represented the actor along with Charles N. Shepard and James R. Molen of Greenberg Glusker.