the conjuring
Director of the movie James Wan (C) poses with cast members (from L to R) Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston at the premiere of "The Conjuring" at the Cinerama Dome in Los Angeles, California July 15, 2013. Reuters/Mario Anzuoni

“The Conjuring” distributor Warner Bros may be forced to pay US$900 million (AU$1.2 billion) if it can’t prove that paranormal investigators Ed and Lorrain Warren really encountered supernatural events. Litigant Gerald Brittle claims that the blockbuster horror film franchise – which includes “The Conjuring,” “The Conjuring 2” and “Annabelle – was based on his 1980 non-fiction book “The Demonologist.”

According to the 355-page amended complaint Brittle filed in March in Virginia, US, federal court, the film franchise infringe on his exclusive rights to create derivative works based on the Warrens’ cases. The paranormal investigators gave him the rights in 1978, two years before he released his book. The “no competing” work provision in their agreement, which is still in effect, states that the Warrens are not allowed to make or contract any works based on the same subject as his book, including their “lives and experiences as paranormal investigators.”

Instead of asking Lorraine Warren for permission, Warner Bros should have sought Brittle’s to legally produce the films, the complaint says. The subsidiary motion picture rights to the Warrens’ case files were initially given to book publisher Prentice Hall, but they were later transferred to Brittle.

Brittle argues that defendants Warner Bros, New Line Productions and director James Wan among others were sent a cease and desist before the release of “The Conjuring 2” in 2016, but they claimed that the films were based on “historical facts” and not on “The Demonologists,” The Hollywood Reporter first reported. That’s where they slipped, according to complainant, because the Warrens lied about the supernatural phenomena they allegedly encountered.

When he wrote his book, Brittle believed the Ed and Lorraine Warren’s accounts of their work to be true. He had since changed his stance, claiming he believed he was duped.

“This is a pattern of deceit that is part of a scheme that the Warrens have perpetuated for years. There are no historical facts of a witch ever existing at the Perron farmhouse, a witch hanging herself, possession, Satanic worship or child sacrifice,” Brittle’s lawyer said. He added that the Warrens’ accounts did not jive with true historical facts, and therefore the film franchise should have not featured paranormal elements.

Brittle also claims that New Line explicitly told its screenwriters not to read “The Demonologists” because the studio presumably knew that it didn’t have the rights to the book. This, according to the complaint, proves that the defendants ignored this “inconvenient” fact and proceeded with making the films.

The director’s tweet in 2011 didn’t help as well. Two years before the first film in the franchise was released, Wan praised Brittle’s book as the “scariest book” he had read. (See tweet below.)

Brittle wants US$900 million (AU$1.2 billion), suing the defendants for copyright infringement, common law trespass to chattels, statutory business conspiracy, conversion and tortuous interference with a contract. “The Conjuring,” “The Conjuring 2” and “Annabelle” collectively made US$895 million (AU$1.2 billion) worldwide.