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Universal Responds to James Bond Lawsuit: No Green Light for 'Section 6' Yet

UPDATED: The studio taps Bert Fields to fight MGM's attempt to gain more information about the secretive MI6 film project.

Skyfall ($1.11 billion)
Daniel Craig as James Bond in "Skyfall"

Universal Studios had submitted its first court papers in the new battle over whether Section 6 -- a film project about the early days of the U.K.'s spy agency MI6 --  is a James Bond knockoff.

Last week, MGM and Danjaq, rights-holders of the lucrative 007 franchise, filed a copyright lawsuit against Universal and alleged there could be no question about the derivation of "a motion picture project, in active development, featuring a daring, tuxedo-clad British secret agent, employed by 'His Majesty’s Secret Service,' with a 'license to kill,' and a 00 (double-O) secret agent number on a mission to save England from the diabolical plot of a megalomanical villain."

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The plaintiffs followed up the complaint with an application to expedite discovery. MGM wants documents to evaluate whether it needs to seek preliminary injunctive relief to stop Universal from moving forward with Section 6.

Universal has tapped entertainment law veterans Bert Fields and Aaron Moss to respond.

In papers filed with a court on late Friday, they are fighting the request to move things along quickly by saying the "picture in question has not been 'green lit,' i.e., no decision has yet been made whether actually to produce it. Indeed, any 'green light' decision is many months away. The project is in the earliest stages of development and production of a motion picture would not commence until after a formal 'green light' decision is made (if ever)."

Universal also says it's sticking by its pre-lawsuit advisement to MGM that Section 6 won't infringe James Bond intellectual property.

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"Universal expressly advised MGM that it is substantially changing that screenplay to remove any material that might arguably be infringing," say the defendant's court papers. "That process is ongoing and a revised script will not be finished for several months."

But Universal doesn't want to voluntarily share what it has.

"Naturally, Universal does not want to share its work in progress with its competitor," the court papers add.

MGM and Danjaq are being represented by Robert Schwartz at O'Melveny & Myers, who stated in the lawsuit the need to sue now given recent news reports that Universal has hired a director, lead actor and four producers to work on the Aaron Berg scripted film.

UPDATED: The plaintiffs have filed a response saying that Universal's admittance of "another unauthorized screenplay" in violation of its rights is further cause for expedited discovery.

"It makes no difference that, as Universal tells the Court, it has not yet approved Section 6 for production," says the plaintiffs. "That can change at any time. And Universal’s filing is contrary to its public statements, in which it has touted the hiring of a director, lead actor, and four producers—steps that take its project far beyond the 'mere spec script' status that Universal claims here."

MGM also says that its next James Bond film is slated for release in October 2015 and that "Universal’s current conduct will dictate whether Universal can release a competing and infringing motion picture in that time frame and ride the coattails of plaintiffs’ investment and public interest in the legitimate James Bond."

E-mail: Eriq.Gardner@THR.com
Twitter: @eriqgardner