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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Harvey Weinstein's 'Precious' lawsuit dealt a big setback


Trust me: Harvey Weinstein is nothing if not determined -- especially when he's mad as a hatter.

When the Weinstein Co. lost the bidding war over "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire" following its premiere at January's Sundance Film Festival, he cried foul -- and took his tiff to the courthouse. In four lawsuits filed between TWC, Lionsgate and the film's producers, Smokewood Entertainment Group, Weinstein alleged that "Precious" sales agent John Sloss really sold the film first to TWC, and then sold it again to Lionsgate when it came along with a richer deal.

It's understandable why Harvey wants a piece of the movie: With endorsements from Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry (in addition to winning the Toronto International Film Festival's prestigious audience award), "Precious" is poised to make a big splash with critics and audiences when it opens Nov. 6. But as my colleague John Horn reports, a federal judge just told Harvey that he hasn't got a leg to stand on. It was only one bit of bad news for TWC. Theatrical production chief Tom Ortenberg, who hadn't been at TWC for even a year, announced Friday that he's jumping off what's looking more and more like a sinking ship:

A federal judge has dismissed a breach-of-contract case filed by the Weinstein Co. against the producers of "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire," ruling that TWC's lawsuit failed to state a valid legal claim that it was entitled to distribute the award-winning movie about a troubled young African American woman.

Friday's order by U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald will likely benefit Lionsgate, which claims it is the rightful distributor of the film. Lionsgate has both sued and been sued by TWC in the "Precious" legal squabble. "It's a very significant decision," said Patty Glaser, a lawyer representing Lionsgate. She said she planned to alert the judges presiding over the three related "Precious" cases of Buchwald's ruling. TWC said it was not commenting on the ruling.

The legal dispute centers on who actually controls the rights to distribute Lee Daniels' movie, which Cinetic Media sales agent John Sloss represented at this year's Sundance Film Festival. As part of its legal papers, TWC claimed that a series of late-night e-mails proved that it had acquired the film from Sloss, essentially because in some of the e-mails, Sloss and Cinetic partner Bart Walker never said to TWC that there wasn't a deal.

Sloss and his lawyers said in court papers that neither Sloss nor Walker nor producer and financier Smokewood Entertainment ever made a final deal with TWC. What probably happened, according to people familiar with the dispute, is that both Lionsgate and TWC were pursuing the film simultaneously. Like any good sales agent, Sloss and Walker played one potential buyer off the other: When Lionsgate was able to agree on the terms, it had the movie.

Buchwald ruled that TWC failed to allege there was ever a written contract between the company and Smokewood, which several similar cases say is critical for the transfer of a copyright, and just because the company wanted the movie and Sloss didn't tell it there was no deal doesn't mean TWC gets the movie. Under these facts, Buchwald said, "there is no legally valid transfer." Even a most generous interpretation of the e-mails in favor of TWC, she said, doesn't prove there was ever a deal. To argue otherwise, she said, is to "strain credulity."

Indeed, in its legal papers, TWC admits there was never a written contract, but cites the e-mails as proof of a deal. Buchwald disagreed.  "A signed writing is required to effectuate a transfer of copyright ownership," she ruled. "To the extent that [TWC] alleges a purely oral agreement for the exclusive licensing and distribution rights to 'Push,' that claim clearly fails as a matter of law."

-- John Horn

Photo of Gabourney Sidibe in "Precious" from Lionsgate.

Comments () | Archives (4)

The comments to this entry are closed.

I guess Bert Fields, who was hired by Harvey to spin the TWC side of its copyright claim to "Push" to the press, misses his legal researcher Anthony Pellicano.

An example of Bert's spin on a blog last March when a reporter challenged Bert on applicable copyright law and Lionsgate's claim that TWC had zero facts to support its claim: "We asked Fields what he thought of the theory and he said it was the kind of argument you make 'when you don't have a real argument.'"

And remember all those reports that David Boies was going to take this case all the way on behalf of Harvey? Dude did squat and turned it over to a junior guy to file papers that the judge laughed at.

Nice work if you can get it.

Harvey, step away from the lawyers.

You can't afford them anymore.

Just move on. Because even if you did win, somehow, you'd have slapped another couple of million dollars onto a film with already narrow appeal and profit margin.

Just let it go. You have to accept that you can't win every time.

Brothers Weinstein should consider themselves lucky. Brother Bob won't have to blame another black cast film for bringing their company down. What hypocrites!!! Good riddance.

You can take a pig out of Electchester, and parade it down a red carpet, but its still a pig.

"Whatever you think about the so-called crime, Polanski has served his time." Paying out a civil judgement ain't serving time.

Not even close.



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