Buchwald v. Paramount Pictures Corp.

90 L.A. Daily J. App. Rep. 14482 (1990)

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Buchwald v. Paramount Pictures Corp.

California Superior Court
90 L.A. Daily J. App. Rep. 14482 (1990)

Facts

Art Buchwald (plaintiff) wrote an original screenplay he later sent to Paramount Pictures Corporation (Paramount) (defendant). Paramount accepted the screenplay as a possible film project and later entered into a contract with Buchwald to buy option rights to the screenplay’s story. The contract was an industry-standard boilerplate agreement containing terms that severely limited what Buchwald was to be paid if Paramount made a movie based on his screenplay. Specifically, the contract defined “net profits” in a manner that left little to nothing for Paramount to share as profits with Buchwald. After Paramount made numerous unsuccessful efforts to produce a movie based on Buchwald’s screenplay, Buchwald optioned his screenplay rights to another studio. Two years later, Paramount began working on Coming to America, a movie whose story closely mirrored that in Buchwald’s screenplay. After Coming to America’s release, Buchwald sought compensation from Paramount on grounds that the movie was based on his screenplay. Paramount refused to pay Buchwald compensation. Buchwald sued Paramount for breach of contract and various tort claims. The court found Paramount contractually liable to Buchwald for basing Coming to America on Buchwald’s screenplay. Paramount accepted liability but tried to minimize the damages it would pay Buchwald. The terms of the contract had not been negotiated because Paramount had Buchwald sign its boilerplate contract. Paramount contended it freely negotiated the terms with Buchwald, but Buchwald argued that free negotiation had not occurred and that he had accepted the boilerplate contract as offered. The court found the contract’s net-profit and other provisions unconscionable and therefore unenforceable. Paramount appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Schneider, J.)

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