Who owns the rights to an autobiography?
That seems to be the question in the center of a lawsuit against James Franco and production company Rabbit Bandini, accusing them of violating film rights for Franco’s upcoming film Bukowski, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Cyril Humphris is accusing Franco of infringing on Charles Bukowski’s semi-autobiographical novel Ham on Rye, which Humphris claims he owns the film rights to. Franco has asserted in the past that the film is based on Bukowski’s childhood and not the novel, despite the similarities. The lawsuit states Franco’s film “borrows the novel’s themes of childhood loneliness; adolescent self-consciousness; the failures, hypocrisy, and cruelty of adults; and, in an unflinching depiction, the crude interest teenage boys take in sex.” It also claims that entire scenes and pieces of dialogue had been taken from the book.
Franco and Humphris began their relationship with an agreement for the actor to develop the film based on the novel in January 2009, but his rights were terminated in November 2010, according to the lawsuit. Just because Humphris owns the rights to the autobiography, does that give him rights to the author’s life? Obviously both sides think differently. The lawsuit claims that in March 2013, Franco strategically began to tell interviewers that the film was not based on the novel and that it would focus on Bukowski’s childhood. “By producing, marketing, displaying, and/or distributing the film, Mr. Franco, Rabbit Bandini, and those involved with them have infringed on Mr. Humphris’ exclusive motion-picture rights to the novel…[and his] ability to exploit his rights to produce a film based on the novel.”
Last December, Humphris had learned that Franco, who is currently on Broadway in Of Mice and Men, had completed production on the film and was looking for distribution. He is seeking an injunction and monetary damages. Franco’s reps did not immediately reply when EW reached out for comment.
A copy of the complaint is posted here.