It's a less deadly approach than that favoured by Mario Puzo's most famous creation, Don Corleone, but Paramount Pictures is taking to the courts to fight against the publication of a prequel novel to The Godfather by Puzo's estate.
In a complaint filed on 17 February in a federal court in Manhattan against Anthony Puzo, son of the author and executor of his estate, the film company claims it bought the copyright in The Godfather in 1969 and that the estate's plans to publish a prequel this summer infringe it. Paramount is seeking damages and an injunction against publication of the novel.
The Family Corleone, due out in July, is based on an unfilmed screenplay by Puzo and written by the American author and playwright Ed Falco. Set in 1933, it traces Vito Corleone's journey as he becomes the Don of The Godfather. Announcing its publication last year, Anthony Puzo called it "true to Mario Puzo's legacy" – the author died in 1999, aged 78 – adding that it would "be cherished by all Godfather fans".
But Paramount, which made the three Godfather movies, claims it authorised one, "but only one" sequel novel to The Godfather – 2004's The Godfather's Return. The 2006 publication of a second sequel, The Godfather's Revenge, was without its "knowledge or authorisation", and the book "received mediocre reviews and suffered weak sales", and "far from properly honouring the legacy of The Godfather ... tarnished it", it said.
Paramount's lawsuit "seeks to protect the integrity and reputation of The Godfather trilogy". "Paramount has suffered and will suffer irreparable harm as a result of the Puzo Estate's infringing conduct," says the complaint. "After execution of the 1969 agreements, Puzo retained no rights of any kind in The Godfather novel except for the right to publish that original novel in book form."
Puzo wrote The Godfather when he was broke and desperate for money, once saying "I wished like hell I'd written it better". Today, it has sold more than 21m copies.
"For Paramount to do this to Mario Puzo's children after the tens of millions of dollars he made for the studio is outrageous," Bertram Fields, a Los Angeles lawyer for the Puzo estate, told Bloomberg. "Paramount and its executives should be ashamed."
A spokesperson for Paramount told Reuters that "the studio has tremendous respect and admiration for Mario Puzo, whose novel The Godfather was acquired in 1969 and helped spawn one of the most celebrated film trilogies of all time. We have an obligation to and will protect our copyright and trademark interests."
Random House, which is due to publish The Family Corleone in the UK this summer, did not comment on the legal action.