Man Who Sold Possible 'Deer Hunter' Oscar on eBay Defends Himself

Oscar Statuette Generic Art - H 2013
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Oscar Statuette Generic Art - H 2013

On Thursday, the 85th Annual Academy Award nominations will be announced as Hollywood learns who will have a chance of taking home an Oscar statuette on February 24th.

Meanwhile, a peculiar dispute plays out over a stolen Oscar statuette that was awarded more than three decades ago to The Deer Hunter sound mixer Aaron Rochin.

In November, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences sued a man named James Dunne who allegedly offered an Oscar statuette on eBay and sold it for $25,000. The Film Academy has reason to believe this Oscar might be Rochin's, pointing out that after Rochin got his trophy in 1979, he gave it back for repairs because it was blemished. The statuette was taken to the manufacturer where it was stolen and has been missing ever since. The Oscar that was sold on eBay had the same inscribed identification number as Rochin's.

Now Dunne is facing the Academy's legal wrath. If the statuette he sold on eBay turns out to be counterfeit, the Academy wants damages for copyright infringement. And if the sold statuette turns out be the one that was given to Rochin, the Academy is pressing a claim of conversion.

Last week, Dunne gave the court more details about what happened and told a judge how he plans to fight the allegations.

Dunne now says that the statue came to him from another individual named Peter Monday. According to court documents, Dunne says that Monday told him that the statuette had been procured from a garage sale and believed it to be a genuine, early edition, Oscar statuette. Dunne purchased the Oscar from Monday for $5,000 before selling it on eBay for five times that amount.

Dunne is now being represented by attorney Tiffany Scott Connors at Lane Powell, who tells the judge that regardless of whether the statuette is counterfeit or genuine, her client was not bound by any restriction of transfer.

The defendant says that the Film Academy "ignores the doctrine of first sale," which prohibits copyright owners from stopping distribution on the secondary market. 

An unfettered right to resell can be waived. One of the quirks of how the Academy Awards operates is that Oscar winners are required to sign a contract giving the Academy a right to buy their award for $1 if they ever want to sell.

But according to Dunne's position, "Dunne made the sale of an original work, without any notice or knowledge that any such sale might be subject to any sale restrictions imposed by the plaintiff on the award winner - recipient. Moreover, Mr. Dunne is not in privity with, nor bound by any agreement made by any prior owner or awardee concerning that individual's contractual restrictions on transfer of the statuette at issue, if any."

The defendant is pleading ignorance and hopes to escape any big damages award by presenting himself as an innocent in the secondary market.

"There is no evidence that Mr. Dunne took, converted or stole the statuette from the Academy; Mr. Rochin, or [manufacturer] Dodge Trophy," his lawyers say. "Dunne categorically denies that he did so. Mr. Dunne merely procured the statuette from Mr. Monday, who told him he found it at a garage or estate sale, paid consideration for the same and resold the trophy in the stream of commerce."

The Academy, represented by David Quinto at Quinn Emanuel, believes that Dunne's alleged misconduct was willful. It also wants to speak to Mr. Monday.

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