Judgment of the Court of Amsterdam, 19 March 2008
Is the Book Always Better than the Movie?
Stanley Kubrick’s movie classic The Shining featuring Jack Nicholson as the terrifying “Here’s Johnny!” could be an exception. Despite the movie’s success, Stephen King, the author of the book The Shining, thought otherwise. He detested the movie, dissociated himself from the movie in public and did not want his name to appear in the credits.
An author who is not satisfied with the screen version of his book is not an unusual phenomenon. In such cases the damage has already been done and there is nothing left to do for the author than to express his disappointment. Once the author had beautiful expectations, once there was trust. That was the moment when he sold the movie rights to his book to the movie company/movie director.
This was also the case in 2006 when Tommy Wieringa and his publisher De Bezige Bij chose movie company IJswater Films to film the bestseller Joe Speedboot. De Bezige Bij sent IJswater Films an option agreement. After some changes the agreement was signed by both parties and a press release was issued stating that IJswater Films was the lucky one. In the option agreement it was stipulated that the parties would negotiate a final license agreement in all reasonableness.
Disagreement on the Screenplay
Next, IJswater Films started to write the screenplay and sent Wieringa and De Bezige Bij the first 40 pages. And that is where it went wrong. Wieringa was very dissatisfied. He had his attorney send an answer stating that the script did not do justice to the story of his book and impaired his value as a writer: “It is not the script of a quality movie for the festival in Venice. Tommy Wieringa is of the view that his story is banalized and reduced to an action movie in which there is a lack of the subtlety, the stratification and the psychological development that characterize the book”. Wieringa was the only party who had not signed the option agreement yet, and now refused to do so.
At its own request IJswater Films was given the opportunity to write a new version of the screenplay. After receiving the revised version, Wieringa stated that he did not have any faith that this would end well. IJswater Films was not so easily put off and took the standpoint that the essentials had already been settled between the parties. IJswater Films invoked the option it had been granted and took the matter to court. IJswater Films primarily requested the issue of a declaratory judgment stating that with the option it had obtained the right to make a movie of the book “Joe Speedboot”. As an alternative, IJswater Films claimed that De Bezige Bij and Tommy Wieringa be ordered to negotiate a license agreement in all reasonableness. As a second alternative, IJswater Films claimed damages.
The Judgment of the Court
The court has reached the following decision. The defense of Wieringa en De Bezige Bij that no option agreement had been concluded because Wieringa had never signed the agreement did not hold. De Bezige Bij had always been in close consultation with Wieringa. Because De Bezige Bij -without any reservations regarding Wieringa’s consent – had sent IJswater Films an option agreement for signing, IJswater Films could trust that this agreement had been concluded between itself, De Bezige Bij and Wieringa. The signals given by De Bezige Bij and Wieringa to the outside world about the cooperation were also taken into consideration in this respect.
The Court, however, did not share IJswater Films’ point of view that with the option the right to the filming had already been obtained. The option agreement leaves no doubt that the parties still have to negotiate a final license agreement in reasonableness. According to the Court, this reasonableness was lacking on the part of De Bezige Bij and Wieringa. But because the conflict was focused on the artistic sphere, the Court did not see the point of ordering the parties to start reasonable negotiations.
In principle, the Court has deemed De Bezige Bij and Wieringa to be liable for compensation because of their reluctance to negotiate, but in the end this did not do IJswater Films any good. The fact is that the Court has ruled that IJswater Films has not suffered any damage, because it is not plausible that a final license agreement would have been concluded between the parties. After all, Wieringa would have demanded that he had to agree with the screenplay and IJswater Films had indicated that it did not agree to this. All IJswater Films’ claims were therefore denied. Wieringa is spared (at least for the time being) the fate of Stephen King’s screen version of The Shining. Whether this is a loss for movie fans, we will never know.