‘Gravity’ Author Tess Gerritsen Says Latest Court Ruling ‘Could Be Devastating to All Writers’

After a federal judge again dismissed 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, the author warned the case holds detrimental consequences for writers.

Her breach-of-contract lawsuit focused on the question of whether Warner Bros. assumed New Line’s obligations when it took control of the mini-studio in 2008.

“This ruling allows me no possibility of remedy,” she wrote on her blog on Monday. “Even if the Warner Bros. film had copied my story word for word, there would be nothing I could do about it.

“The court’s latest decision focused solely on the Warner Bros./New Line corporate relationship,” she added. “It did not take into consideration my novel, or Cuaron’s film, or the similarities between them.”

After U.S. District Judge Margaret Morrow dismissed the lawsuit in January, Gerritsen’s legal team filed an amendment complaint.

But on Friday, Morrow again dismissed Gerritsen’s lawsuit, 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.”

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 in her latest ruling, Morrow wrote that she couldn’t find that Warner Bros.’ exercise of control over New Line “plausibly suggests” that it also intended to assume all of Katja and New Line’s liabilities and obligations. She wrote that “the facts Gerritsen plead to show ‘total control’ suggest only that WB, as parent, engaged in routine oversight of its subsidiaries, and provided support for their activities.”

Morrow said that Gerritsen could file another amended complaint, but not new claims.

In her blog post, Gerritsen wrote that she cannot file a copyright complaint against Warner Bros. “as my ‘Gravity’ film rights are owned by New Line. The only entity with the legal standing to sue for copyright infringement is New Line – and they will certainly not sue their parent company, Warner Bros.

“The court has again granted me the opportunity to file an amended complaint, for which I am grateful,” Gerritsen added. “I am not by nature a crusader, but the consequences of this ruling could be devastating to all writers working in any media, including film, television, and publishing.”

 

 

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