Welles Heir Seeks <I>Kane, Ambersons</I> Profits4 Feb, 2003 By: Holly J. Wagner
Orson Welles' daughter has sued Turner Entertainment and RKO Pictures, claiming she owns the copyrights to her father's classic film Citizen Kane and reuse rights to his The Magnificent Ambersons.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, contends Orson Welles initially signed a deal with RKO Radio Pictures in 1939 to write, produce and star in the films and that agreement gave copyrights to the studio. But the parties superseded the deals with other agreements made in 1941 and 1944, according to the filing.
Welles' daughter, Nevada resident Beatrice Welles, contends in court papers that her father regained the copyrights to Citizen Kane in the 1944 agreement and to the script for Ambersons, which was based on a book by Booth Tarkington, in the 1941 agreement.
“We think we are entitled to reuse fees, not from the copyright but because he wrote the script,” Welles' attorney Steven Ames Brown said.
Turner, RKO and Turner's successor parent company, Warner Bros., have not paid Welles or his heirs royalties on the movies, the lawsuit contends, but instead have claimed that the 1944 contract was retroactive to 1939 and “that only rights in their favor survived,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit asks a judge to review the contracts and determine which is in force. If the judge finds the 1939 deal was in force after 1944, Brown said she is entitled to 20 percent of the profits from Kane and 25 percent of profits from Ambersons, as well as “all rights to the original story of Citizen Kane, which the 1939 agreement identifies as ‘remake rights' and ‘the publication, radio and dramatic and other rights.’
If the judge finds the later agreements are in force, Brown wants a declaration that they did not terminate the Welles family's entitlement to profits from the films or ownership rights to Citizen Kane.
“It extends to all forms of exploitation,” Brown contends. “If she has the copyrights, she wants the money from home video.”
Turner and RKO did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Warner is not named as a party in the case.
“Warner is not claiming the copyrights,” Brown explained. “Warner is claiming ownership of Turner, and Turner is claiming the rights.”