SAN FRANCISCO The Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals agreed June 19 that assertions by a series of plaintiff-heirs that a writer co-authored the story treatment for the original Pink Panther movie fail because the writer had no control over the film (Bradley Richlin; Lance Richlin; Mark Mannis; Abigail Richlin Schwartz v. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.; Geoffrey Productions Inc., No. 06-55307, 9th Cir.; 2008 U.S. App. LEXIS 12917).
According to the court, under the standard set in Aalmuhammed v. Lee (202 F.3d 1227, 1234 [9th Cir. 2000]), the heirs of writer Maurice Richlin are unable to show that his co-authorship of the 13-page story treatment “The Pink Rajah” carries over to co-authorship of “The Pink Panther.”
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In 1962, Richlin and director Blake Edwards co-authored “The Pink Rajah,” which eventually matured into the 1963 movie “The Pink Panther,” which Edwards directed. In May 1962, Richlin and Edwards assigned their rights in the treatment to Mirisch Corp., a production company. Mirisch then hired the two to write the screenplay. When the film's copyright expired in 1991, it was renewed by Mirisch's successors-in-interest, defendants Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. (MGM) and Geoffrey Productions Inc. Richlin died in 1990.
In 2004, MGM began work on a new version of the 1963 film and informed Richlin's widow, Louise, that she would be receiving a royalty payment connected to the new movie. Louise and Richlin's six children (the Richlins, collectively) became convinced that they could assert their rights in the original film's copyright renewal. In November 2004, the Richlins sued the defendants in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, seeking declaratory relief stating their rights in the original story treatment's copyright and any related property. The Richlins also sought an accounting of all profits from the story and all derivative works.
MGM and Geoffrey moved for summary judgment, claiming that there was no separate copyright in the treatment and that it was an “integrated component” of the film that was made as a work for hire. MGM also stated that the copyright claims made more than 40 years after the original film's release were time-barred under the Copyright Act. The District Court found that the May 1962 agreement had transferred all of Richlin's rights in the film to Mirisch “forever.” The court ruled that no genuine issues of material fact existed as to ownership of the copyright, granting the motion and dismissing the case without prejudice. The Richlins appealed to the Ninth Circuit.
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