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Estate sues over ‘Adjustment’ pay

Dispute centers on public-domain status of Philip K. Dick story

The estate of Philip K. Dick filed suit against MRC, director George Nolfi and producer Michael Hackett on Thursday, contending that they reneged on an agreement for a share of the returns from “The Adjustment Bureau” by claiming that the short story on which it was based was in the public domain.

Suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles by Laura Archer Dick Coelho, asserts the makers of “The Adjustment Bureau” essentially backed out of an agreement for the rights to the Dick story “The Adjustment Team” by citing issues with the work’s copyright status. What’s more, the suit states, the makers even demanded the return of prior payments for the rights.

The Philip K. Dick Trust claims that the story remains protected by copyright, but their suit outlines the source of the dispute: Dick wrote “The Adjustment Team” in 1953, and the story first appeared in a 1954 issue of Orbit Science Fiction, a “third-rate pulp” that lasted only five issues. Although the contents were registered then with the U.S. Copyright Office, they were not renewed.

The trust, repped by Justin Goldstein and Jay Handlin at Carlsmith Ball, says that Dick never authorized the publication in Orbit, and there is no evidence that he received payment. Their suit suggests that Dick’s literary agent, Scott Meredith, “phonied up” the publication to “generate bogus, bargain-price sales of works” by his clients “that he had failed to sell legitimately.” The sham “sales,” the trust contends, was concealed from Dick and therefore did not trigger a copyright.

Instead, they say that the copyright for “The Adjustment Team” was really in 1973, in a collection of stories called “The Book of Phillip K. Dick,” and that it remains in effect.

The suit states that “even if ‘Adjustment Team’ were in the public domain (which it is not), it is unquestionably protected by copyright in countries around the world.”

Dick died in 1982.

A spokeswoman for MRC said they had not yet seen the complaint and did not yet have a comment.

Suit states that after Nolfi spent nearly a decade adapting the project and extending his options to the story, he assigned it to MRC, which then paid $1.4 million to the Dick Trust for the rights in 2009. The Dick Trust says that it was owed additional compensation based on an agreement giving them 2.5% of the net profits and “deferment” payments as the movie reached breakeven status.

The Trust contends that in January, 2010, Nolfi’s counsel began inquiring whether “Adjustment Team” might be in the public domain. Five days later, the Wikipedia entry for the story “was modified by an anonymous user to state” that the story was, indeed, in the public domain.