From Yahoo Movies:
The author of the New York Times best-seller Rocket Boys is suing Universal Pictures for overstepping the life rights he granted in the 1990s and shutting down a musical adaptation of his book in favor of launching its own, according to a complaint filed Thursday in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
Homer Hickam Jr. says he agreed to give Universal the rights to one book to adapt into one film, October Sky.
Now he is suing Universal, and its president James Horowitz and vp of live theatricals Christopher Herzberger, for a host of claims including breach of contract, fraud, misappropriation and unfair competition. Hickam is seeking at least $20 million in damages, an injunction to shut down the October Sky musical and a declaration from the court that Universal does not have any rights to his life story other than the right to make the original 1999 film.
Rocket Boys is the story of Hickam’s life, centering on the family conflict surrounding his decision to build rockets instead of entering the coal mining business.The author claims he sold that story to Universal in 1996, and his now-deceased literary agent Mickey Freiberg assured Hickam that his sequels were protected and reserved, that the agreement was for one film only and that Universal would have to provide significant payment if it wanted to remake the movie or create a new project.
A decade later, Hickam developed and produced Rocket Boys into a live stage musical with the approval of Universal, according to the lawsuit. In 2015, Universal decided to create an October Sky musical, purportedly based on the film and Hickam’s memoir, and has shut down the author’s stage show.
“Universal has demanded that Hickam cease and desist in developing, producing and performing the Rocket Boys musical and accept a complete gag order that would punish him if he ever said a word about Universal’s wrongful and improper conduct,” states the complaint. “Universal has taken the completely fallacious position that Hickam has optioned all rights to Universal to make any and all motion pictures or live stage productions arising from any and all stories he may write about his life.”
Link to the rest at Yahoo Movies and thanks to Meryl for the tip.
PG will observe that deceased agents are not very useful for determining the meaning of ambiguous contract clauses.
If an author contractually grants rights to his/her book for the full length of the copyright (the remainder of the author’s life plus 70 years in the US and similar durations in other western countries), everybody involved in creating the contract will be dead before the contract ends. This is one of the many reasons for getting the language of the contract exactly right.
Of course, the consequences of poorly-drafted contract language would have fewer potential adverse consequences for the author if the contract’s duration was a more reasonable period of time. A misunderstanding that impacts an author for three years or five years or seven years is less serious than one the author will never outlive.
PG will also observe that the contracts of KDP and other ebook sales channels of which PG is aware may be terminated by either party at any time. This is not to say that authors should not take their KDP contracts seriously and understand the obligations contained therein, but an author who wants to take their book in a different direction can easily do so.