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Author's estate, studio in flap over publication

Miami residents of a certain age undoubtedly will remember "The Godfather" series of books written by the late Mario Puzo and adapted for the big screen. Now, the heirs to the estate of author Mario Puzo have agreed to sell the rights to an unpublished "Godfather"-inspired book to Paramount Pictures for development, though the family remains deeply divided with the studio.

The two sides had been embroiled in a dispute over the unpublished screenplay, "The Family Corleone," which tells the back story of Vito Corleone's life in New York during the Depression. Puzo wrote the screenplay before his death in 1999.

Earlier this year, Paramount filed suit against the author's estate, claiming it had a longstanding agreement to bring to market any work based on "The Godfather" and its characters and had the right to publish "The Family Corleone" as a book.

In its response, the Puzo estate asked to end the relationship with Paramount. The estate alleged that Paramount had breached its contract with Puzo.

The two parties remain divided over who owns the copyright, but they reached an agreement to allow publication of "The Family Corleone." The agreement is just temporary, with lawsuits continuing. Any proceeds from the book will be placed in escrow pending a permanent resolution, though neither side expects that to be easy.

Even with the agreement between Paramount and the Puzo heirs, the court case will continue. Paramount has asked to dismiss the estate's request to terminate the studio's rights and said that the estate has not proved its contention that the studio breached the contract.

An attorney for the estate called Paramount's actions "outrageous."

Even more than a decade after Puzo's death, the fact that the two sides have such deep divide shows the need for a well-thought estate plan that addresses future revenues that could come from a person's prior work.

Source: The Hollywood Reporter, "New 'Godfather' Book Will Be Published After Paramount, Mario Puzo Estate Strike Deal," Eriq Gardner, May 11, 2012

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