Puzo family wants Paramount out of ‘The Godfather’

By Grant McCool ,Reuters

NEW YORK — The family of “The Godfather” author Mario Puzo wants a federal judge to stop Paramount Pictures Corp. from making movies based on sequels to the best-selling, Oscar-winning story of the Mafia. A lawyer for Puzo’s heirs, Bertram Fields, said in Manhattan federal court on Thursday that Viacom Inc.’s Paramount breached a decades-old contract with Puzo by trying to stop publication last May of a new book, “The Family Corleone.” In February, Paramount sued Anthony Puzo, Mario’s son and executor, accusing the heirs of approving sequels to the 1969 best-seller without the studio’s permission and in violation of earlier agreements. Paramount, the studio behind the Oscar-winning movie version of Puzo’s story of a New York Mafia family, said the new book infringed its copyright.

The Puzo family fired back with a counterclaim a month later that Paramount had been given ample notice and asked for US$10 million in damages. U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan did not make a ruling on the counterclaim following oral arguments on Thursday. She did not indicate when she would issue a decision. Fields said after the hearing that since it was Paramount that had sued the Puzo estate, the family was disinclined to deal with the studio again. He told reporters that if the Puzo estate won the case, he expected various studios to take an interest in the rights to future “Godfather” movies. “I’m sure they would,” Fields said. A spokesman for Paramount Pictures said in a statement that the studio had “tremendous respect and admiration for Mario Puzo” and “as we have said before, we have an obligation to and will protect our copyright and trademark interests.” The family said in court papers that Paramount did not automatically have film rights to the books that followed the original. Paramount’s lawyer, Richard Kendall, argued that the Puzos’ claim to rescind the original 1969 agreement between Mario Puzo and Paramount could not be granted under the law. In 1969, Paramount bought from Puzo all rights and copyright interests in “The Godfather.” “I believe the court is in a position to say that based on this claim, and the passage of 40 years … the omelet cannot be unscrambled at this point,” Kendall said. Mario Puzo died in 1999. The two sequels to the Godfather saga published since his death were written by Mark Winegardner. The third novel published in May was written by Ed Falco.