Sixty-six years after its release, “Citizen Kane” is still making waves.
A court of appeals ruled Wednesday that Beatrice Welles, daughter of maverick filmmaker and star Orson Welles, may be entitled to home video rights and profit participation for the classic 1941 film.
The three-judge panel said a lower court was wrong to side against her in favor of Turner Entertainment Co., a unit of Time Warner Inc., without adequately considering a 1939 contract between Welles and RKO Radio Pictures Inc. Turner, which owns much of the RKO library, distributes “Citizen Kane.”
“We hold that the contract is ambiguous regarding which party owns the right to exploit the ‘Citizen Kane’ screenplay on home video,” the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals said.
The panel also said a trial court should have heard Beatrice Welles’ claim that her father’s estate could be owed a profit share from the movie under a possible separate agreement.
Orson Welles co-wrote, directed and starred in the technically dazzling drama that some critics and historians consider the best film ever made.
The movie chronicles the life of Charles Foster Kane, a megalomaniacal newspaper tycoon loosely based on powerful publisher William Randolph Hearst.
The two sides in the long-running dispute disagreed about the effect of the ruling.
Steven Ames Brown, a San Francisco lawyer who represents Beatrice Welles, said that under a confidential agreement between the parties reached after the original ruling two years ago, Welles was entitled to compensation “if there is a reversal for any reason.”
In a separate interview, Brown told Bloomberg News that the compensation would amount to “seven figures.”
David W. Quinto of Quinn Emanuel in Los Angeles, who represents Turner, asserted, “Beatrice Welles hasn’t won anything yet.”
Although the appeals court found there was a “triable issue” as to whether the parties intended for future technologies such as DVDs to be covered under the original contract, Quinto said Turner would prevail on that question if the case went to trial.
Quinto also said there was no evidence of any contract after Welles and RKO parted ways in 1944 that would entitle the estate to “Citizen Kane” royalties.