In 1709 (or was it 1710?) the Statute of Anne created the first purpose-built copyright law. This blog, founded just 300 short and unextended years later, is dedicated to all things copyright, warts and all. To contact the 1709 Blog, email Eleonora at eleonorarosati[at]gmail.com
Friday, 31 August 2012
The Godfather: Can you copyright a film character?
The Godfather was initially written as a novel by Mario Puzo, before Paramount Pictures produced the film in 1972. Before he died in 1999 ,Mario Puzo wrote the screenplay for The Family Corleone, the prequel The Godfather,
however the screenplay was never produced. Subsequently Ed Falco wrote a novel,
The Family Corleone, based on Mario Puzo's screenplay. His novel was published
by Grand Central Publishing, and was released on 8 May 2012.
Prior to publication, Paramount Pictures stepped in to try
to prevent the new novel being published. Paramount sued Mario Puzo's estate in
March of this year, seeking a declaration that it owned the publishing rights
to any book that was a prequel or a sequel to The Godfather. Paramount claims that it bought
copyright in The Godfather from Mario Puzo in 1969. Paramount says that this
included all literary rights and the rights to use any characters "created
for the story in other works."
Unsurprisingly, Mario Puzo's estate has now requested
confirmation from the courts that Paramount does not have any rights over
future films in the The Godfather franchise. The estate says that the original
agreement between Paramount and Mario Puzo did not include book publication
rights therefore the estate owns the publishing rights as well as the film rights to
all new books.
The idea/expression dichotomy springs to mind here:
copyright cannot protect an idea and it can sometimes be difficult to protect
characters. In the UK we know from Hodgson v Isaac
that the entire plot of a book cannot be copied, and it is therefore arguable
that if a character is described in a sufficiently detailed and original way
that it too could be protected by copyright. The fact pattern in this case is relatively complicated, and the case may turn on what the contract said rather than on copyright law, but either way this will be an interesting one to watch.