The ongoing feud between John DeLorean’s widow and Humble, Texas-based DeLorean Motor Co. went back to the future with a new lawsuit over proceeds from the use of a DeLorean coupe in the movie “Back to the Future.”
Sally DeLorean filed suit in federal court in New Jersey claiming Universal Pictures, which produced the film, owes the DeLorean estate a “substantial” amount of money in unpaid royalties for the company’s use of the modified DeLorean coupe in the three “Back to the Future” movies.
She wants a judge to decide who – the estate or DMC – should be paid the royalties as part of a decades-old agreement. The fees have been paid to the DeLorean Motor Co. instead of to her husband’s estate.
This isn’t Sally DeLorean’s first battle over her late husband’s estate, involving the iconic stainless steel coupe produced by the John DeLorean’s company between 1973 and 1982 in Ireland, and DeLorean Motor Co., which refurbishes the cars and sells parts and accessories.
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She previously sued DMC Texas on behalf of the estate in February 2014 and settled the copyright infringement suit about a year later. The two parties agreed to allow the Houston-area firm to use “a limited set of intellectual property,” including the name of DeLorean Motor Co. and the DMC logo.
“The estate did not transfer to DMC Texas any contractual rights,” the new lawsuit asserts. “In fact,” it notes, “the Universal agreement was not mentioned in the settlement.”
Universal, reports USA Today, has an agreement in place, since 1989, that allows it to “use suitably modified DeLorean automobiles as a ‘prop” (i.e. as a ‘time machine’ belonging to the character ‘Doc Brown’) in the pictures and in advertising and other forms of exploitation.”
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The studio’s agreement said the rights to use the vehicle’s image extended to “toys, games, gadgets, novelties, books, apparel, food and beverages.” For all of this, Unversal agreed to 5% of net receipts “from merchandising and commercial tie-ups in connection with the pictures, based upon the (DeLorean) material as a key component.”
Sally DeLorean’s lawsuit against DMC Texas contends Universal stopped making payments at an unknown time, noting the estate “did not have a copy of the agreement at the time of Mr. DeLorean’s death (at age 80 in 2005) and therefore could not enforce his rights.”
According to the suit, an attorney for the estate wrote to Universal on Feb. 13, “seeking to enforce Mr. DeLorean’s right.” It says the studio responded by saying DMC Texas had claimed it owned the rights under the agreement and had already received the payments and threatened legal action if the estate did not drop its effort to be paid by Universal.
(Back to the Future Day brings justice for DeLorean estate. For more, Click Here.)
The suit seeks a declaration that the DeLorean estate holds the rights to the Universal contract and wants a court order requiring DMC Texas to “pay over to the estate all sums it received from Universal.” A lawyer for the Texas firm rejected the estate’s claims, according to USA Today, adding, “The suit is a work of fiction,” attorney Casey J. Lambright of Houston said.