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On Wednesday, Landmark Entertainment Group, which developed popular features in the Candy Land board game, filed a lawsuit against Hasbro, contending that the toy company doesn’t have the right to license Sony’s Columbia Pictures to make a film based on Candy Land characters and environments.
It was announced in January, 2012, that Columbia Pictures would be developing a live-action film based on the game that would be directed by Kevin Lima (Enchanted) and starring Adam Sandler. At the time, Columbia Pictures president Doug Belgrad said, “Candy Land is more than just a game.”
Now, Landmark has come forward in California federal court in an action that could threaten the film.
The Candy Land game has been around since the mid-1940s, but according to Landmark’s lawsuit, it was bereft of characters besides a “generic boy and girl” prior to 1984. That year, the game was “completely revamped,” and Landmark takes credit for creating original artwork, storylines and characters like King Kandy, Lord Licorice and Princess Lolly of the Lollypop Woods. The plaintiff says it licensed the works to Milton Bradley, a toy company that would later be acquired by Hasbro. According to the complaint, Landmark received $50,000 and future royalties.
Then, reports began circulating about the Candy Land feature film. “Hasbro had not reported this fact to Landmark, nor sought authorization to make such a film, despite the fact that the License Agreement did not give Hasbro the right to use Landmark’s works in this way,” states the complaint.
Landmark says it investigated further, discovering other alleged ways that Hasbro had used Candy Land characters without accounting for sales. The plaintiff reports that it put Hasbro on notice last September.
“In response, Hasbro’s counsel took the position that Hasbro owned the subject Works as works made-for-hire, and refused to provide a complete and accurate accounting, pay royalties due, or confirm its obligation to seek Landmark’s authorization to create a feature film based upon Landmark’s copyrighted Works,” continues the complaint.
Landmark is now seeking a declaratory judgment that it is the owner of various Candy Land characters and artwork and that its agreement “is limited to toys, and thus does not extend to animated or live action films, handheld electronic games, or DVD-based video games.”
As part of the requested relief, Landmark seeks an injunction against the infringing of its copyrights. The plaintiff is represented by Sheldon Eisenberg at Drinker Biddle & Reath.
Hasbro and Sony declined to comment.
Interestingly, the lawsuit comes just as Hasbro is prepared to go to trial over rights to another one of its popular board game properties being turned into a film — Dungeons & Dragons.
Hasbro, which licensed a D&D film to Universal, is up against Sweetpea Entertainment, which possibly licensed a D&D film to Warner Bros. Recently, the parties told the judge that they couldn’t come to a settlement, leading the judge to set a trial date in September.
This past February, the judge in that case issued a summary judgment ruling that was originally under seal but has now become public. The 28-page decision is a worthy read. Among other things, the judge ruled that it is a triable issue as to whether Sweetpea committed contributory copyright infringement in its dealings with Warner Bros. The D&D film project might have been halted as a result of the lawsuit, but the judge rather extraordinarily decided that a preliminary script — not a final film, not even a final script — could form the basis of copyright infringement. The judge also ruled that Warner Bros. (not a party) might have been liable for violating Hasbro’s copyrights and trademarks, and so it should be left to a jury to determine whether Sweetpea encouraged the development of infringing work.
Sweetpea, which made an agreement with Hasbro in 1994 and produced a D&D film in 2000, believes it maintained the contractual right to license D&D. For purposes of summary judgment, though, the judge assumed it hadn’t the right, but hasn’t yet made a determination about this.
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