Dueling Breakfast at Tiffany’s Reboots Locked in Legal Rights Battle

Paramount, which plans to remake Breakfast at Tiffany's, is in a legal battle with Truman Capote heir Alan Schwartz, who wants to sell a TV reboot.

The on-screen future of Breakfast at Tiffany’s is up in the air, with Paramount currently locked in a legal battle with Alan Schwartz, Trustee of the Truman Capote Literary Trust — as both parties have their own reboots in mind.

Schwartz filed a lawsuit against Paramount back in November, claiming ownership of the on-screen rights to Breakfast at Tiffany’s, with the studio having now responded by filing its first arguments in the case. Paramount currently has a script for a new Breakfast at Tiffany’s film, while Schwartz is looking to sell a television reboot of the property, having already gotten seven-figure offers from interested buyers. The lawsuit will examine whether the rights still reside with Paramount, or if they have reverted to Truman Capote’s estate.

In early 2020, Paramount and Capote’s estate pursued a settlement with the understanding that Schwartz’s planned Breakfast at Tiffany’s TV series would come to pass, and that Paramount would be involved. However, things fell through in May when Paramount CEO Jim Gianopulos decided to make a movie instead.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s, a novella written by Capote, was originally published in 1958. In 1961, the book received a film adaptation distributed by Paramount. Capote died in 1984, with the Copyright Act of 1909 — which benefited author estates — still in effect. The act was upheld in the 1990 Supreme Court case of Stewart v. Abend. In 1991, Paramount and Capote’s estate entered a new agreement, under which Paramount had three years to buy the rights for $300,000 in order to make a new movie. If the studio did not exercise this option, the rights would revert to the estate. Paramount did exercise its option to buy the rights, but has still yet to make another Breakfast at Tiffany’s film.

Schwartz claims that by waiting too long to utilize the rights, Paramount has lost them, citing the Supreme Court’s ruling in Stewart v. Abend. However, Paramount has its own bargaining chip in the form of foreign rights, which were not addressed in the Stewart case, nor the Copyright Act of 1909. Paramount also reiterates that it did by the rights to Breakfast at Tiffany’s, with The Hollywood Reporter saying that the studio will most likely argue that no hard time limit for making a new movie was set in the original deal. As this matter comes down to an interpretation of copyright law, it’s up to federal court to make the final call.

Directed by Blake Edwards and starring Audrey Hepburn as main character Holly Golightly, 1961’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s is often regarded as a classic. The film has inspired other pieces of pop culture, including the world of comic books, with artist Adam Hughes’ interpretation of DC Comics’ Catwoman being based on Hepburn. Speaking of Catwoman, when Anne Hathaway played the character in live-action for 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises, one of the dresses she wore was based on the dress Hepburn wore as Holly. That being said, Breakfast at Tiffany’s has also been the subject of controversy and extensive critical analysis in recent decades due to its outdated and offensive portrayal of Asian Americans in the form of Mr. Yunioshi — a character who was portrayed very differently in Capote’s original novella.

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