Hallmark Productions Sued for Allegedly Stealing Christmas Movie

Hallmark Logo - H 2012

Hallmark Logo - H 2012

Filmmaker Brad Wigor has filed a $7 million lawsuit against Hallmark Hall of Fame Prods and McGee Street Prods, claiming theft of his work to create a TV movie similar to his treatment about a troubled boy who meets an angel, gains the power to fly and uses it for good during the Christmas season.

"Whether due to changing tastes, evolving technology or both, recent years have not been kind to Hallmark," says the plaintiff's lawsuit filed today filed in federal court in California. "Faced with declining viewership and languishing interest, Hallmark has become desperate for quality original content. Unfortunately, Hallmark has apparently decided it is more valuable to it to obtain ideas and copyrighted works by theft and deception rather than to develop and pay for truly original programming.

Wigor, who has been nominated three times for a Daytime Emmy for family dramas, says he first provided a treatment in 2007 for a project entitled The Night Flyer to Hallmark's head of development Cameron Johann.

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Nothing came of it until April 2011, at which time Wigor alleges he was contacted by another Hallmark agent who on Johann's behalf requested another copy of the treatment.

That July, Wigor says he had meetings in Hallmark's office in Studio City to discuss development and production. He alleges that he was told that if Hallmark went ahead with the project, he would be brought on as director. Wigor said he was in the process of writing a script and the parties allegedly agreed that Wigor would provide a "first one-pager."

Wigor says that Hallmark agreed to work with him and for many months thereafter, through February 2012, he had extensive communications with various Hallmark agents and submitted drafts of the project.

"Unbelievably, however, and for the first time, Hallmark simultaneously demanded Wigor to step aside as a writer and a director of the project," continues the lawsuit. "Instead, Hallmark told Wigor that he could either take a valueless executive producer credit or be cut out of the project entirely."

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He refused, and Hallmark is said to have gone ahead anyway.

Last April, McGee is said to have sent Wigor a letter admitting wrongful conduct of producing a film of "many significant and striking similarities" to Wigor's work, yet asserting that the project was based on a 1966 book entitled Black and Blue Magic. Wigor says that it was demanded that he restrain himself from further exploitation of his work.

The following month, Wigor sent his own cease-and-desist demand.

Hallmark couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

Wigor is now suing for copyright infringement, breach of implied contract, fraud, unfair business practices, and unjust enrichment.

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The plaintiff, represented by Bonnie Eskanazi at LA's Greenberg Glusker, has made the rather unusual decision to bring an idea theft claim in federal court rather than a state one where disputes over implied contract breaches are typically litigated. In addition, copyright infringement doesn't protect ideas, only expression, and the complaint omits details about the alleged similarities.

Eskanazi is a noted litigator who has been involved in some big cases, including representing the Tolkien estate in a lawsuit over profits from the Lord of the Rings films. 

She says the film hasn't come out yet, but doesn't think that will be a burden in proving copyright infringement. Eskanazi pushes the theory that the defendants can't use Wigor's expression to continue their own work. She adds she'll be attempting to get a copy of the work soon.

"Maybe they won't go forward with film," she says. "That's fine with us. Then my client will be able to sell his script."

E-mail: eriq.gardner@thr.com

Twitter: @eriqgardner