Valerie Harper's Four Emmys Withdrawn From Auction After TV Academy Lawsuit (Exclusive)

Valerie Harper circa 1974 - Photofest -H 2019

The four Primetime Emmy Awards won by the late actress Valerie Harper will not be sold to the highest bidder — at least not Friday morning, as had been scheduled to occur.

On Thursday, the United States District Court serving the Central District of California granted a temporary restraining order, requested by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, blocking Julien's Auction LLC from selling the statuettes, which Harper, who died Aug. 30, 2019, won for The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1971-1973) and for Rhoda (1975).

Online bidding had already begun, with projected sales prices of $6,000 to $8,000 for each statuette.

The TV Academy, which filed its complaint Tuesday, argued that the sale of an Emmy has been forbidden "since at least as early as the 1971 Primetime Emmy Awards," even if notices explicitly stating this policy only began to be "affixed to each Emmy statuette awarded at the Primetime Emmy Awards" in 1978.

John Leverence, the TV Academy's former senior vp awards, declared in the petition that the auction of the Harper Statuettes would severely damage the TV Academy's integrity and reputation, since its "economic existence depends on the exclusivity and achievement symbolized by possession of an Emmy statuette," and therefore [t]he sale of genuine Emmy statuettes to the highest bidder destroys the exclusivity and value of the Emmy statuettes, and, in turn, diminishes the significance of the statuettes and the Primetime Emmy Awards ceremony," and also "conveys to the public that the Emmy statuettes can be bought and paid for, and that they symbolize wealth rather than artistic achievement."

Julien's countered with a declaration from the actress Margaret O'Brien, who worked "extensively in television during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s," stating that it "was [her] understanding, and the understanding of [her] peers, colleagues and friends in the television industry that [she] spoke with during those decades, that Emmy awards were given to their recipients to do with as they pleased."

The court acknowledged that "there are serious questions as to whether Plaintiff [the TV Academy] owns or has the rights to possession of the Harper Statuettes" and that "there are serious questions going to the merits of Plaintiff's copyright infringement claim."

However, it found "at this stage that Plaintiff's distribution of the Emmy statuettes prior to 1978, including the Harper Statuettes, was for a limited purpose. Accordingly, the Court holds for purposes of this TRO Application that Plaintiff did not forfeit its copyright protection of the Emmy statuettes through publication prior to 1978."

And the court was not persuaded to stay out of the matter despite the president of Julien's declaring that the auction house had already spent $15,000 to advertise the auction of the Harper Statuettes, and a TRO would result in "reputational damage" by delaying or preventing the advertised auction from proceeding as indicated. The court said this consideration "does not outweigh the likelihood of irreparable harm to Plaintiff absent an injunction."

It wasn't a total win for the TV Academy, though. The TV Academy was required to post a bond by July 20 in the amount of $15,000, which would be used to cover Julien's asserted costs in the event the court ultimately decides to allow Harper's statuettes to be sold. Meanwhile, Julien's has until July 21 to show cause why a preliminary injunction should not be issued; the TV Academy will have until July 24 to respond to that; and a hearing on the order to show cause will take place July 30.