Philip K. Dick estate sues over unpaid $500K Adjustment Bureau fees

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Dec 15, 2012, 11:18 AM EST

The 1953 Philip K. Dick story "Adjustment Team" is not in the public domain—at least, that's what his estate says. But film studio Media Rights Capital claims otherwise. And now there's a legal kerfuffle over whether MRC should pay Dick's estate $500,000 for the story that the movie The Adjustment Bureau was based on.

According to the New York Times,

Mr. Dick's estate charged Media Rights Capital and others involved with "The Adjustment Bureau," which starred Matt Damon, with trying to avoid at least $500,000 in bonus payments by declaring Mr. Dick's original story, "Adjustment Team," to have been in the public domain. But, the suit says, they did so only after having repeatedly paid fees under purchase agreements for the story, and after tapping the Dick estate for promotional help.

George Nolfi, the film's director, producer and screenwriter, has owned the option on "Adjustment Team" since 2001, and the movie was funded by MRC. And one month after the film was released, MRC discovered that the film was in the public domain, based on the fact that the story was published in Orbit magazine in 1954.

This lawsuit isn't just over bonus payments: According to Variety, MRC "demanded the return of prior payments for the rights."

However, Dick's estate claims that the Orbit publication was unauthorized and that Dick had no knowledge of the publication. (Rights for the story were based on the 1973 collection The Book of Philip K. Dick.)

The New York Times notes that the lawyers representing Dick's estate are aware of the irony about a lawsuit over The Adjustment Bureau, which is about altering reality to change the future.

"Motivated solely by greed, defendants seek to establish themselves as the de facto 'Adjustment Bureau' of Hollywood," they write in the complaint. "Using heavy handed means, they seek to 'adjust' agreements entered into long-ago," and "even 'adjust' history so as to hoard any and all monies rightfully earned by the estate."

The Adjustment Bureau, which cost $50 million to make, earned a sweet $127 million at the box office.

Is the story in the public domain or not? That's up to the judge.

(via NYTimes and Variety)