License dispute threatens to halt 'Letters to Juliet' release

Letters_to_juliet_poster_01 EXCLUSIVE: For a century, visitors to Verona, Italy, have been seeking love advice by leaving letters at the gravestone of Juliet Capulet from Shakespeare's "Romeo & Juliet." It's a great story, so who gets to release the movie about it?

A New York District Court is nearing a decision on whether Summit Entertainment will be prevented from releasing "Letters to Juliet," which stars Amanda Seyfried as an American girl who decides to answer one of those letters. The film is scheduled to be released on May 14.

But not if EPV Enterprises can help it. The company is asking for an injunction to stop the film because it claims it's working on another "Juliet" project after licensing the story from a production company called ErgoArts. ErgoArts claimed authority over the story after licensing the life rights of a Verona group called the "Club di Giulietta," which for 100 years has been responding to those very real letters.

It's a complicated chain of custody, but enough to have freaked out Summit, which in January sued ErgoArts seeking a declaration that its film didn't violate any rights. Summit made "Juliet" after licensing a book by the same name.

Then in March, EPV filed a third-party counterclaim against Summit asking for the nuclear bomb of damages: an injunction preventing the release of "Juliet."

According to the court filing, EPV says Summit's "Juliet" is remarkably similar to its own movie, called "Dear Juliet." EPV claims that in 2000, it presented its script to Caroline Kaplan at IFC. Kaplan then left IFC to start her own production company, Applehead Pictures, with actress Ellen Barkin. Summit is producing "Letters to Juliet" with Applehead.

EPV says it spent in excess of $500,000 to develop its project, about an American couple who travel to Verona and get caught up in responding to letters to the famous Capulet.

Summit's response to EPV's claims are due in court on Friday.

UPDATE: Summit Entertainment has given us this statement:

"Summit believes the counterclaims stated by Ms. Rigas and her affiliated entities are baseless, which is why Summit initiated the action by seeking declaratory relief. Nonetheless, Summit has been in discussion with Ms. Rigas and her representatives for some time in an attempt to reach a mutually satisfactory resolution outside of court. Summit remains confident that should this matter proceed further in the courts Summit will be completely vindicated and is prepared to file a motion for summary judgment to that end. Plans to release the picture remain unchanged."

(Ellen Rigas is the head of ErgoArts. She's the daughter of John Rigas, founder of Adelphia Communications Corp.)