James Franco is an actor, director, writer, scholar, and paramour of body pillows. But may he soon add “litigant in a copyright infringement case” to his resume?
A London-based screenwriter, Cyril Humphris, is bringing suit against the Flyboys star and his production company for his work on a biographical film of the author Charles Bukowski, entitled Bukowski. Humphris claims that Franco’s film infringes upon Bukowski’s semi-autobiographical novel Ham and Rye, which Humphris contends he owns the film rights to. In the lawsuit, Humphris says that he and Franco entered into an agreement in 2009 to adapt the novel into a film, but that Franco’s rights to the project expired in November 2010. Humphris asserts that Franco has continued with his work on the project despite having the right lapse, and that Bukowski
“borrows the Novel’s themes of childhood loneliness; adolescent self-consciousness; the failures, hypocrisy, and cruelty of adults…the Film incorporates entire scenes, including substantially their dialogue, from the Novel.”
When he learned of the project, Humphris reached out to Franco over email to express his concern, and to try and get a copy of the script; he didn’t hear back from Franco but was eventually contacted by Franco’s attorneys. The lawsuit claims that beginning in March 2013 Franco made a conscious effort to distance his film from the novel, claiming that his work wasn’t based upon Ham and Rye but rather Bukowski’s childhood in Los Angeles. Humphris learned last December that Franco has completed work on the film and that he and his production company, Rabbit Bandini, were seeking distribution. Humphris is seeking an injunction and $150,000 in damages.
Ownership of film rights to an autobiography does not necessarily give one life-story rights to the author, as The Hollywood Reporter’s Eriq Gardner writes:
“And it’s possible to do a biography without infringement, as facts can’t be copyrighted. But the arrangement of facts in a creative manner can be protected, and so Humphris is coming to court with an interesting claim that he is essentially entitled to Bukowski’s expression of childhood and any imaginative flourishes within.”
It is as yet undetermined whether legal proceedings will delay any potential sequel to the 2006 film Annapolis.