The battle to remake the classic film continues its way through the courts as Paramount goes head to head against Alan Schwartz the Trustee of the Truman Capote Literary Trust.

Paramount has plans to remake the classic film while Schwartz has been entertaining offers to turn it into a television series.

The story dates back to 1958 when Truman published the book. Three years later, Paramount distributed the movie. The author died in 1984 and the story was protected under the Copyright Act of 1909, not the 1976 Copyright Act. That means that copyright protection was divided into two terms, an initial one and a renewal one. Therefore, the rights to the story reverted to Truman’s estate. 

Seven years after the author’s death, Paramount was offered three years to buy the rights to remake the movie. The deal was that if they decided not to purchase the rights, they would go to the Capote estate. Paramount bought the rights at that time for $300,000 and have developed a script but have not made the film yet. Court documents indicate the media giant believed it was buying the rights to the story “in perpetuity.” 

Schwartz is arguing that Paramount has lost the rights because they have essentially done nothing with them. He wants to sell them to a producer who will remake the story for the small screen.

While Schwartz’s court documents claim that the issue is simply a contractual dispute, Paramount is looking to move the case to federal court claiming it is about copyright interpretation. 

A lawsuit was filed last November as both Schwartz and Paramount claim they have the rights to the story. Paramount’s recent court submission argues that they still hold foreign rights to Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which complicates the situation. It underlines the importance of knowing what a contract includes and does not include.  

The decision now rests with the courts. Whatever the outcome is, it could have a significant impact on how people understand copyright law. This court battle highlights the necessity of having a reliable digital catalog of your assets and contracts.

How to protect your assets

While there are no guarantees, there are some things that organizations can do to steer clear of legal issues when it comes to their productions and publications. These include:

  1. Documents – Be sure that each decision that is made from actor contracts to location permission to distribution deals is documented. Have a copy of these documents stored digitally in a central location that can be accessed easily. 
  2.  Know what intellectual property covers – Lawsuits can arise from the most precarious situations. It’s best to have your work copyrighted but be clear about what elements are considered protected, as well as for how long, and be sure to have a system in place that tracks that information in real time. 
  3. Set up alerts – Use your rights management system to set up frequent reports and notify you of any significant changes.