Warner Bros. struck gold back in 2013 with The Conjuring, a critically-acclaimed horror movie that has spawned a massive franchise, but trouble is brewing. It looks like the studio may have engaged in copyright infringement in order to make The Conjuring, The Conjuring 2 and Annabelle. Now, author Gerald Brittle is staking his claim and he isn't messing around. He is suing Warner Bros. for $900 million.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Gerald Brittle, who wrote the book The Demonologist, is claiming that he had the exclusive rights to make derivative works based on the cases discussed in his book. The Conjuring movies follow real life paranormal investigators Ed Warren and Lorraine Warren, who were the subjects of his book. According to Gerald Brittle, he had an exclusive agreement with the Warrens that dates back to 1978 before he even wrote his book. There was a "no competing" work provision that, according to him, is still in effect. Because of this, he claims that Warner Bros. New Line and even director James Wan were in the wrong in making The Conjuring, as well as the subsequent sequel and spin-offs. Here is what attorney Patrick C. Henry II had to say about it.

"When Lorraine Warren granted the Defendants the right to use the Warren Case Files, which the Defendants themselves repeatedly state their movies are based on, she could not have done so because she had years earlier contractually granted that exclusive right to use those same Warren cases, Warren Case Files and related materials to the Plaintiff. Lorraine Warren had nothing to convey. It is very hard to believe that a large conglomerate such as Warner Brothers, with their army of lawyers and who specializes in intellectual property rights deals, would not have found The Demonologist book or the deals related to it, or Brittle for that matter. Defendants have built a billion-dollar franchise based on rights they knew they did not possess. They ignored this 'inconvenient' fact and willfully proceeded anyway."

What is perhaps most interesting about his case is that Gerald Brittle claims that New Line explicitly told screenwriters not to read The Demonologist. That is presumably because the studio knew that they didn't have the rights to the book. In the complaint filed, the author used Warner Bros.' own argument in a separate lawsuit against them. Warner Bros. sued a company called Innovative Arts for screener piracy. Here is what Patrick C. Henry II wrote.

"Warner Brothers alleges that Innovative willfully ignored and then infringed upon its exclusive copyright protected rights (i.e., reproduction, distribution and performance) which has resulted in 'irreparable harm' to Warner Brothers. Warner Brothers further alleges the appropriate remedy under the law for knowing and willful infringement is disgorgement of all of the infringer's profits derived from said infringement and an injunction to insure the pattern of infringement is stopped."

Warner Bros. was sent a cease and desist prior to the release of The Conjuring 2 last year, but they ignored it. The claim was that the movies are based on "historical facts" and actual events that occurred in the lives of Ed and Lorraine Warren. However, according to Gerald Brittle, that won't hold up in court, because the Warrens actually lied quite a bit about what happened in their stories, which he based The Demonologist from. If that is indeed the case, then these movies would be based on what is essentially a work of fiction. While some of this may be hard to prove, the author claims that he believed the couple at the time he wrote his book, but he now believes he was "duped."

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"To the extent the Defendants' movies are not based on 'historical facts' they cannot claim they are protected by the 'fair use' doctrine exemption to copyright."

To date, between The Conjuring, The Conjuring 2 and Annabelle, the movies have made $895 million worldwide. They also have Annabelle 2 on the way later this year and another spin-off called The Nun in production. By the end of 2017, this will be a $1 billion franchise and that makes it a big deal if Warner Bros. is found guilty of copyright infringement. Warner Bros. says that they have not yet been served with the complaint and they declined to comment further. The studio also was caught up in a lawsuit with producer Tony DeRosa-Grund, who was trying to make a Conjuring TV series at one point. The Conjuring is one of the biggest franchises in Hollywood right now, so it might not be all that surprising that people want in on the action. But if Warner Bros. loses this case, they could be in some serious financial trouble, as opposed to rolling in the dough.

Ryan Scott at Movieweb
Ryan Scott