Lionsgate, Weinstein Co. tussle over 'Push'

Companies sue each other, throwing rights into question

Lionsgate and the Weinstein Co. on Wednesday filed dueling lawsuits against each other over Sundance hit "Push," throwing into question who owns distribution rights to the urban drama.

In its suit, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, Lionsgate claims that TWC does not have "any right, title or interest" in the picture, which won both the grand jury and audience drama prizes in Park City, and is seeking a judge's declaration to that effect.

Lionsgate filed the suit, it argues in the complaint, because of "threatened litigation" on the part of TWC over theatrical rights to Lee Daniels' inner-city tale.

Several hours after word surfaced of the Lionsgate suit, Weinstein Co. reps said the company had filed its own suit against both Lionsgate and sales agent Cinetic Media for breach of contract and inducing breach of contract. TWC argues there was a contract in place for the New York company to buy the movie.

"TWC reached a firm agreement for the rights to "Push: Based on the Novel by Sapphire.' 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," said Bert Fields, who along with David Boies is repping TWC. Typically in breach-of-contract cases, a plaintiff would either want the contract honored or, in its place, monetary compensation.

Fields added: "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 were seen as an attempt by each side to stake out jurisdiction. Often in cases featuring identical parties and issues, the case will be heard in the venue where the first lawsuit is filed; this instance is murkier, however, since both lawsuits were filed on the same day.

Lee Daniels directed "Push: Based on the Novel by Sapphire,' which tells the story of an illiterate inner-city teenager and her attempts to set her life right. The Weinstein Co. and Overture had been among the distributors circling the movie in the wake of its strong performance in Park City. Lionsgate eventually won rights to the film, it said in an announcement earlier this week, paying in the ballpark of $5 million for North American rights to the film and enlisting Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey as supporters.

According to the Lionsgate suit, producers told Lionsgate that while there were discussions between producers and the Weinstein Co., no deal was made because parties couldn't come to terms over issues such as international rights and profit-sharing.

The Weinstein Co., via its breach of contract suit, feels otherwise.

The suits highlight the informality of festival negotiations, in which conversations between buyers and sellers often take place in afterhours 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 on both the buyer and seller sides.

Daniels, Gary Magness and Sarah Siegel-Magness produced the picture, while Cinetic Media repped the filmmakers in the sale.

Further complicating the relationship between the companies is the recent move of Lionsgate president of theatrical Tom Ortenberg to an identical job at the Weinstein Co.