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Lionsgate and the Weinstein Co. on Wednesday filed dueling lawsuits against each other over Sundance hit “Push,” providing a surreal new chapter to the battle over who owns rights to the dark drama.
In its suit, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, Lionsgate claims that the Weinstein Co. does not have “any right, title or interest” in the picture, which won the grand jury and audience drama prizes in Park City. Lionsgate filed the suit, it says in the complaint, because of “threatened litigation” on the part of the Weinstein Co. over theatrical rights to director Lee Daniels’ inner-city tale.
Several hours after word surfaced of the Lionsgate suit, Weinstein Co. reps said their company had filed suit in New York against Lionsgate and sales agent Cinetic Media for breach of contract and inducing breach of contract, saying there was a contract in place for TWC to buy the movie.
“TWC reached a firm agreement for the rights to ‘Push: Based on the Novel by Sapphire,’ ” said Bert Fields, who with David Boies is repping TWC. “Behind their backs, Cinetic Media tried to make a better deal with Lionsgate. Lionsgate was well aware of the TWC contract but went forward anyway.”
“We have just been informed that Lionsgate went to court today in Los Angeles to preempt TWC’s lawsuit in New York. This is obvious forum-shopping by a party that knew TWC was going to sue. We will deal with it appropriately.”
The moves are seen by legal experts as an attempt by each side to stake out jurisdiction. Frequently in such cases, the case will be heard in the venue in which the first lawsuit is filed; in cases where suits are filed on the same day, as appears to be the instance here, the situation is less clear.
“Push” tells the story of an illiterate teenager and her attempts to set her life right. TWC and Overture had been among the distributors circling the movie in the wake of its strong performance at Sundance. Lionsgate eventually won rights to the film, it said this week, paying about $5 million for North American rights and enlisting Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey as supporters.
According to Lionsgate, producers said that while there were discussions between them and TWC, no deal had been made because the parties couldn’t come to terms over issues such as international rights and profit-sharing.
TWC, via its breach-of-contract suit, feels otherwise.
The lawsuits highlight the informality of festival negotiations, in which conversations between buyers and sellers often take place in after-hours venues and in which different parties may be negotiating at cross-purposes; how legally binding these discussions are has historically been a slippery subject for attorneys.
Further complicating the relationship between the companies is the recent move of Lionsgate president of theatrical Tom Ortenberg to an identical job at TWC.
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