Paramount Gets Mixed Rulings in Legal Cases Over 'La Dolce Vita,' 'Johnny Come Lately'

The studio has gotten news both bad and good in cases involving its exploitation of old motion pictures.
Everett Collection

In the past few weeks, Paramount Pictures has received some bad news and some good news in cases involving its exploitation of old movies. The studio has been unsuccessful in scoring a quick win in claiming exclusive rights to Federico Fellini's classic La Dolce Vita, but it has prevailed in defending another lawsuit over its licensing of 17 films from the 1940s and 1950s.

First, La Dolce Vita.

Paramount is going head-to-head with International Media Films over the classic 1960 film. Both companies claim to own rights to the picture and both have elaborated complex chain-of-title.

IMF previously lost a case against Lucas Entertainment, which had released a porn version entitled Michael Lucas' La Dolce Vita. The judge in that case determined that IMF hadn't presented a valid chain of title.

Paramount said that IMF was barred by collateral estoppel from claiming that it owned the film, but IMF retorted that the judge's ruling narrowly interpreted a proceedural issue, that a court hadn't made a full determination who owned the film, and that it hadn't appealed because a lawsuit over a porn film wasn't worth the trouble. This one was, IMF said.

A judge agrees with IMF and has denied Paramount's motion for partial judgment. "As a defendant in the current case, IMF has more to lose than it did" in the previous lawsuit, says the judge, who adds, "The Court finds that it would not serve the interests of equity and fairness to preclude IMF from raising the defense that it owns the Copyright."

Paramount has fared better in a case over such films as Blood on the Sun, Johnny Come Lately and Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye.

In this case, a company that was acquired by Paramount bought rights "of every kind, nature, and description throughout the Universe" to the films in 1986. However, the agreement with Richard Feiner & Co. Inc. let the seller retain rights in a number of local markets including New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Philadelphia.

Richard Feiner brought a lawsuit against Paramount after noticing some of his movies on television and then doing some research that revealed his films were being shown on the AMC and Turner Classic Movies networks. He alleged that since the cable networks penetrated his reserved markets in their national exhibition, Paramount was breaching the contract.

A lower court in New York declined Paramount's motion to dismiss, leading the studio to appeal.

The appellate division of the New York Supreme Court last week reversed the lower court's decision and has accepted Paramount's motion to dismiss.

"We do not read the rights in the preexisting local Licenses as establishing the exclusive right to exploit the Pictures in the markets covered by those Licenses," says the decision. "On the contrary, a plain reading of [the contract] establishes that plaintiff retained only the benefit of the performance of the licenses, namely the proceeds.”

Paramount still has to share revenue with Feiner, but the studio maintained in the case that it had not collected any royalties, fees, payments or proceeds of any kind on the film. Barring a further appeal or amended claims, the case is now over.


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