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Simon Cowell Breaks Silence on 'X Factor' Lawsuit, Slams 'Idol' Creator Simon Fuller (Exclusive)

“I'm surprised this has happened,” Cowell says of the suit over a credit and fee. “Because you can't give someone an executive producer's title if they didn't executive produce the show.”

Simon Cowell
Bryan Bedder/Getty Images
Simon Cowell

Simon Cowell has some choice words for American Idol creator Simon Fuller: Keep your hands off The X Factor.

Cowell is finally responding to the lawsuit filed in July by Fuller against Fox and producer Fremantle claiming Fuller is owed an executive producer credit and millions of dollars in fees from the Cowell-produced X Factor, which bows in the U.S. in September.

“I'm surprised this has happened,” Cowell tells The Hollywood Reporter in an interview. “Because you can't give someone an executive producer's title if they didn't executive produce the show.”

As THR first reported, Fuller sued July 20 in Los Angeles Superior Court claiming he negotiated a hefty executive producer fee and credit on X Factor as part of a settlement of a 2004 copyright-infringement lawsuit against Cowell when X Factor launched in the U.K. At the time, Fuller claimed that X Factor, which had eclipsed Idol in popularity in Britain, was a blatant rip-off of the Idol format. To settle the feud between the two Simons, Fox and Fremantle, which produces both Idol and X Factor, helped broker a deal in which Fuller would end Pop Idol in the UK but Cowell would agree to remain a judge on American Idol for five years and keep X Factor off U.S. television until 2011. The Fuller suit claimed Fox and Fremantle are now refusing to honor that deal and credit him “commesurate with his duties and stature in the entertainment industry.”

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But Cowell, who is not a defendant in the suit, tells THR that Fuller never negotiated any deal requiring a credit or fee associated with X Factor. Has Fuller had anything to do with X Factor at all?

“No,” Cowell reiterates. “It’s like me saying I want to be executive producer on The Voice or Project Runway.”

Credits on movies and television shows can appear for various reasons, irrespective of the amount of work a person actually contributes. Executive producer credits, for instance, often are awarded to those who contributed either money or creative input during the development process. Credits in certain cases can even be the product of a settlement of a lawsuit. But Cowell says the resolution of the X Factor litigation did not grant Fuller any credit rights.

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If not, why did he sue?

“Genuinely on this one I haven't got a clue,” Cowell tells THR. “It's not part of our settlement agreement, it never was. So I was as surprised as anyone.”

Cowell’s latest comments are another jab in the ongoing international boxing match between the two megarich Simons. Fox, which will air both X Factor this fall and Idol in the spring, is in business with both men, but it is backing Cowell’s version of the story in the X Factor litigation. "Mr. Fuller has not been hired, nor performed any duties, on the U.S. version of The X Factor,” the network said in a statement when the lawsuit was filed. “His suit seeks payment and credit as an executive producer despite his neither having been approved by the required parties, nor hired, as such. We believe this lawsuit is without merit, and we expect to prevail."

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Fuller's attorneys have taken issue with Fox and Fremantle’s position that they never “approved” him as executive producer under his X Factor settlement agreement, thus denying him the credit and fee. “It is precisely because Fox was contractually obligated to approve Fuller as executive producer and has breached that obligation that the case was filed,” Fuller’s lawyer Dale Kinsella said in a statement. “Fox appears to be admitting early on that they have breached the agreement. 

The Fuller lawsuit does not seek an injunction against the broadcast of X Factor, so regardless of the next steps, Cowell can be sure that the legal mess won’t derail the show’s premeire, set for Sept 21 on Fox.

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Email: Matthew.Belloni@thr.com, Shirley.Halperin@thr.com
Twitter: @THRMattBelloni, @ShirleyHalperin