Gravity – a legal mess

Generally speaking it is better to take what you read in the press with potentially lethal doses of sodium chloride.

However, Trollope, as an advocate of the rights of the author and a believer in justice (in this case relating to contract law) would probably be as appalled at the apparent legal sleight of hand as his creation Augustus Melmotte would have admired it in the case of Gravity.

As I understand the sequence of events (that is what passes for a legal caveat in my little world), according to best-selling author Tess Gerritsen, she wrote a novel called Gravity in 1999.  This told the story of a female doctor who is stranded in orbit in her spacesuit when the International Space Station on which she has been working is destroyed killing the rest of the crew whilst she is on a spacewalk. According to Gerritsen, she sold the film rights to New Line Productions for £1million with a contractual right to a further $1/2 million from subsequent profits.

In 2008, New Line Productions was acquired by Warner Brothers which subsequently made a rather successful film called Gravity about a female astronaut, played by Sandra Bullock, who is stranded in orbit in her spacesuit after the International Space Station on which she has been working is destroyed killing the rest of the crew whilst she is on a spacewalk. This film was written by Alfonso Cuaron, who, apparently, was part of the New Lines subsidiary which worked on turning Gerritsen’s novel into a film.

Warner Brothers is refusing to pay Gerritson the $1/2 million she claims is owed her under the contract she has with its now subsidiary.

Warners appears to have acquired the rights of New Line Productions and its subsidiary without taking on its responsibilities.

I am no lawyer.  I haven’t seen the contracts. But this sounds like the sort of manoeuvre that would have appealed to Melmotte more than Trollope (or indeed any supporter of novelists’ rights).

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