Philip K. Dick Trust Sues Over Unpaid ‘Adjustment Bureau’ Royalties

The family of the science fiction author disputes filmmakers’ claims that the rights to the story fell into public domain

Last Updated: February 17, 2012 @ 3:31 PM

From “Blade Runner” to “Total Recall,” Hollywood has made millions spinning the futuristic tales of Philip K. Dick into big screen entertainments.

But the science fiction writer’s heirs are suing the producers and director of the most recent film made from his dystopic back catalog, last spring’s “The Adjustment Bureau,” alleging that they failed to pay for the rights to the thriller.

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In a suit filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, the author's trust alleges that the team behind the film, George Nolfi, Michael Hackett and Media Rights Capital, are falsely claiming that the story on which “The Adjustment Bureau” is based has fallen into the public domain in order to justify failing to pay royalties.

“Now, motivated solely by greed, defendants seek to establish themselves as a de facto ‘Adjustment Bureau’ of Hollywood,” the suit reads. “Using heavy-handed means, they seek to ‘adjust’ agreements entered into long-ago agreed, ‘adjust’ determinations made long ago by the U.S. Copyright Office, and even ‘adjust’ history so as to hoard any and all monies rightfully earned by the estate of the man whose genius inspired what is indisputably a highly successful film.”

The suit asserts that the movie has made $128 million at the worldwide box office and an additional $10 million on domestic DVD sales, triggering several bonuses and performance payments.

According to the suit, Nolfi paid $75,000 to the trust to option film rights to the story. In that pact, the producer allegedly agreed to a purchase price ranging between $1 million to $1.8 million depending on the budget of the film and an additional $100,000 once the movie reached its “breakeven” point.

After Nolfi and his producing partner, Hackett, set up the picture at Media Rights Capital, its production subsidiary purportedly wired $1.4 million to the trust, but failed to make any additional payments, claiming that the copyright on the short story had expired.

Nolfi directed and wrote the film, which starred Matt Damon and Emily Blunt.

The filmmakers claim that “The Adjustment Team” was first published in 1954 in a magazine called Orbit, meaning that the rights have now passed into public domain.

Yet, the trust counters that the story appeared in the publication without the author’s knowledge or approval. Attorneys for the trust contend that the first authorized publication of the story was a 1973 collection of stories called “The Book of Philip K. Dick,” meaning that the rights still lie with the trust.

“Only after the motion picture had been in theaters for a month did the defendants claim they ‘discovered’ an issue in the copyright chain of title for ‘Adjustment Team,’” the claim states.

“So brazen are defendants, they claim that they could have made and released the movie worldwide without having to pay anything for the rights to use ad leverage the Philip K. Dick name and goodwill.”

The trust’s suit asks  to be compensated for what it claims its owed plus interest and attorney’s fees.

Nolfi, Hackett, Media Rights Capital and its subsidiary Oaktree Entertainment are named as defendants in the suit.

Representatives for Media Rights Capital and Nolfi did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Hackett could not be reached.