'Love Berlin' meets controversy

'Paris, Je t'aime' producer sends cease-and-desist letters

CANNES -- "Paris, Je t'aime" producer and "Cities of Love" franchise creator Emmanuel Benbihy is once again defending his right to "Love," sending out cease-and-desist letters Saturday to Marina Grasic's Visitor Pictures, Sherazade Films, and the Very Useful Co. for copyright and trademark infringement, breach of contract, unfair competition and tortuous interference with their recently announced title "Love Berlin -- How We Met."

Benbihy took action after the producers of "Love Berlin" announced in Cannes on Friday that Shekhar Kapur and Neil LaBute have joined the omnibus project, along with U.S. helmer Oren Moverman ("The Messenger").

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Grasic and Sherezade also produced "New York, I Love You" with Benbihy and Stefan Piech co-produced "Paris, je t'aime." Benbihy's lawyers claim that a film based in the German capital titled "Berlin, I Love You" was already in the works and that the producer holds exclusive rights to the format, accusing the various producers of causing "substantial consumer confusion."

On Saturday, Benbihy also informed German sales agent Telepool and local co-producers Studio Babelsberg as well as all the sponsors of the film of the cease and desist order. Telepool declined comment.

Like "Paris, je t'aime" and "New York, I Love You," "Love Berlin" is set to feature 10 short segments about a couple falling in and out of love in the various neighborhoods of the city. The official U.S. copyright registration Benbihy filed in 2000 states: "The concept is for films comprised of approximately 10 different segments centering on relationships, encounters and love, all taking place in the film's title city."

"I first and foremost created this concept because I loved my city: Paris. And I completely agree that Berlin should share the love. Nevertheless, I will let you judge for yourself if this is the right way. 'Berlin, I Love You' should happen," Benbihy told THR. "My former partners cannot ignore the chain of rights on these specific films!"

The Berlin law firm of Brehm & v. Moers, which are representing the "Love Berlin" producers in the case, dismissed Benbihy's claims.

"'Love Berlin – How We Met' doesn't violate any protected format," they said in a statement to THR. The firm said they had rebutted a copyright claim filed by Benbihy through a German lawyer earlier this year, after the producers announced the "Love Berlin" project at the European Film Market in February.

"Now Mr. Benbihy has again, through his U.S. lawyer, sent another letter with nearly identical content," the statement reads. Brehm & v. Moers said they will take "all possible legal action" to block Benbihy, calling his behavior "damaging to both the business and reputation and business of our clients."

Benbihy emerged victorious in a similar case against French producer Claudie Ossard in 2006, involving the first in the series, "Paris je t'aime." Benbihy's team is currently in development on new versions of the "Love" format set in Jerusalem, Shanghai and Rio.

"Love Berlin – How We Met" is set to begin shooting this summer but Benbihy is demanding the producers halt production until they sign a license agreement properly compensating him. He's given all parties involved five days to respond to his demand.

Added Benbihy: "If a settlement is not reached, I will defend my rights in all the territories where this project will be sold and my films have been exploited."

Format rights specialist Toby M. J. Butterfield from New York-based Cowan, Debaets, Abrahams & Sheppard LLP is acting as Benbihy's U.S. litigator.
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