Judge Orders WME-IMG to Arbitrate Dispute Over Cam Newton's Nickelodeon Show

Nick Katsoris claims the talent agency was partly responsible for having his reality show stolen.
Allen Berezovsky/WireImage

Almost always, it's the defendant pushing for arbitration when faced with a lawsuit. Not so in an unusual case involving Nickelodeon's All in With Cam Newton, starring the popular NFL quarterback. There, upon allegations that the reality series emanated from a pitch by Nick Katsoris, it was WMG-IMG resisting Katsoris' arbitration demands. On Monday, the talent agency's opposition was rejected by a federal judge.

Katsoris is both an attorney and the author of several children's books featuring a lamb character called "Loukoumi." Three years ago, he formed the Loukoumi Make a Difference Foundation with a mission to teaching children to make a difference in their lives and the lives of others. He approached IMG to represent him in pitching a reality show based on his book series — one, he says, that would feature kids living their dreams. Together, after entering a work-for-hire agreement, Katsoris produced a TV special featuring a child aspiring to become a Broadway star. It was broadcast on Fox in October 2014. A few months later, the TV special and other materials were pitched to Nickelodeon.

Nickelodeon passed on the project, but around the same time, it announced a development deal with IMG for a reality show featuring Newton. That series, which began airing in 2016, featured the NFL star telling the audience, "I believe every kid has a dream inside them," before introducing children to mentors who could instruct them on their dreams.

According to court papers, IMG initially indicated it would mediate a dispute, but after Katsoris filed a lawsuit against WME and Viacom claiming infringement of his intellectual property, IMG reversed course. The agency moved to dismiss with the argument that "common ideas of transformation, dreams, and goal-setting and use of scenarios involving celebrities and guest stars" weren't protectable under copyright. 

Katsoris then moved to compel arbitration between his foundation and IMG. He pointed to an arbitration provision in the work-for-hire agreement as the basis.

The defendants responded that Katsoris had waved any right to arbitrate the dispute by engaging in litigation, but U.S. District Court judge Ronnie Abrams rejects the argument.

"No time at all elapsed between Plaintiffs' initiation of this action and their request for arbitration," writes the judge. "Plaintiffs' complaint sought an 'injunction in aid of arbitration' against IMG under the [Federal Arbitration Act]. Moreover, in the weeks prior to filing their complaint, Plaintiffs contacted IMG to express their interest in mediation — a prerequisite to arbitration under the arbitration agreement..."

There was also the argument by WME-IMG that it couldn't be compelled to arbitrate because it wasn't a party to the agreement. Instead, it was IMG Productions that signed, but the judge doesn't see much difference, ruling that there is a "sufficient relationship" between the two entities. In particular, Abrams cites the fact that after WME acquired IMG, the same IMG representative who negotiated the work-for-hire agreement met with Katsoris to discuss the TV special and shared it with colleagues.

As for Viacom, Abrams won't force the Nickelodeon owner to participate in the arbitration because Viacom wasn't a party to the arbitration agreement. The judge pauses the case while Katsoris' arbitration with IMG proceeds. Here's the full order.