Steve Harvey Wins Trial Over Unreleased Comedy Tapes

A jury finds that a videographer didn't have a valid agreement with the comedian for rights to 120 hours of footage. The tapes included negative racial, gender and sexual comments.
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Steve Harvey has emerged victorious in a long-running legal battle over unreleased comedy tapes. On Thursday, the host of Family Feud and an eponymous talk show convinced a jury in Texas that he didn't breach contract with Joseph Cooper, who was hired back in 1993 to tape performances at Harvey's Dallas club. The jury also found that Cooper misappropriated Harvey's name or likeness in attempting to commercially exploit the tapes.

Cooper was demanding $50 million after Harvey got in the way of the videographer's attempt to release highlights from about 120 hours of footage. Harvey contended the material was shot for internal use and that Cooper has been attempting to extort him by telling others there's potentially embarrassing material on the tapes. According to one report, the tapes included Harvey telling his audience, "Go assault old white women," among other inflammatory comments.

Back in August, U.S. District Judge Jane Boyle set up the trial with a summary judgment opinion that reserved the question of whether the parties had a valid contract that gave Cooper the rights to use the footage. Cooper insisted he had not made a work-for-hire agreement and that he had a deal that specifically conveyed such rights. Harvey argued that he never signed an agreement, and even if there was a contract, it didn't cover the 120 hours of footage at issue.

At trial, the jury heard evidence about a contract the judge deemed ambiguous, as well as Cooper's claim that Harvey breached the agreement by communicating Cooper's lack of rights to Music Video Distributors and YouTube. The jury didn't hear excerpts from the tapes. Before trial, Boyle agreed with Harvey that recordings containing negative racial, gender, sexual comments would be irrelevant and unfairly prejudicial. The trial occurred just after Harvey was taking heat about jokes directed at Asian men.

According to a verdict form, the jury found that Cooper hadn't proved by a preponderance of evidence that he and Harvey entered into a valid contract. As such, the jury didn't need to examine whether Harvey breached the agreement by interfering with a potential distribution deal. Nor did the jury have to rule on Harvey's other affirmative defenses including a contention that the contract Cooper submitted for consideration represented a mutual mistake by the parties.

Harvey not only beats back the $50 million contract claim, but has gotten the jury to rule that Cooper misused the comedian's identity without consent. But there won't be further testimony on the value of Harvey's celebrity. Instead of a verdict on damages for Harvey's counterclaim, the parties read into the record a settlement agreement, and the trial was concluded, according to court notes.

Harvey was represented by attorneys Aubrey Pittman, Wendle Van Smith, and Ashlei Gradney, while Cooper was represented by J Michael Weston and Casey Erick.