Category: Archive

McCourts lawsuit will pivot on 1984 contract

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Patrick Markey

The lawsuit filed last week against Pulitzer Prize-winning author Frank McCourt and his brother claiming they owe an investor royalties from their successful literary careers will center on an original contract that the McCourts signed more than a decade ago, legal experts said this week.

The lawsuit filed last week in Chicago by Mike Houlihan claims that Frank and Malachy McCourt owe him 40 percent of the profits from works such as "Angela’s Ashes" and "A Monk Swimming."

Houlihan’s complaint alleges when he funded a production of the McCourt play "A Couple of Blaguards," he entered into a contract in 1984 with the McCourts which entitled him to "subsidiary rights" to their future works related to the play.

The lawsuit also alleges that the McCourts owe Houlihan back payments from performances of the play.

Interviewed by the Wall Street Journal, Frank McCourt told the paper he believes they may owe money to Houlihan for past performances of the play. But he dismissed any claims of a connection between the original play and other works such as "Angela’s Ashes."

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The play was written before the McCourts achieved wider fame after Frank was awarded a Pulitzer for "Angela’s Ashes."

If the case goes to trial, it would center on the original contract and the interpretation of what subsidiary rights could mean, said Rochelle Dreyfuss, an expert in copyright law who teaches at New York University’s school of law.

Although cases of conflict of ownership rights to songs and films are common, it is unusual for a claim to come from a play being turned into a book, she said.

The complaint alleges that the books "Angela’s Ashes," "Tis" and "A Monk Swimming" are "clearly based on a character in "A Couple of Blaguards" and the McCourts should pay for 40 percent of the royalties from those publications.

According to the complaint, Houlihan also entered into a contract with the brothers that allowed him 40 percent of 6.5 percent of the gross weekly receipts from live performances of "A Couple of Blaguards." The complaint lists 13 performances from Sacramento to a cruise ship off India and Sri Lanka, where payments are allegedly due to Houlihan.

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