Judge Denies Distribution of 'Platoon' Videotapes

Times Staff Writer

A federal judge on Monday refused to permit Home Box Office Inc. to begin distributing videocassettes of "Platoon," the Academy Award-winning movie whose home debut has been snagged in a multimillion-dollar dispute over video rights.

U.S. District Judge David V. Kenyon granted Vestron Inc.'s request for a preliminary injunction preventing HBO from selling the hundreds of thousands of cassettes it has in stock pending resolution of the long-running legal battle.

Ruling in a copyright case brought by Vestron earlier this year, Kenyon extended an earlier distribution ban ordered by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and said Vestron is likely to prevail in its claim for distribution rights to "Platoon" and another film also included in the injunction, "Hoosiers."

'The Bottom Line'

"I think we can sum our reaction up with one word, and that is frustration," said Alan Leavy, director of corporate public relations for HBO. "The bottom line is that none of the parties involved, and that would include Vestron, Hemdale (the original distributors of the film), HBO and video retailers across the country, none of the parties are making any money, and as you know, a motion picture is a perishable commodity."

HBO had hoped to win authorization to distribute the film, to be priced at a record $99.95, in advance of the lucrative Christmas season.

"Hoosiers" was already on the shelves and "Platoon" was ready for distribution when Vestron filed suit, claiming that Hemdale Film Corp. violated its copyright to the films when it rescinded an earlier contract with Vestron and resold the video rights to HBO.

Missed a Payment

Hemdale claimed that it was entitled to renegotiate the rights, at what was admittedly a higher price after last year's Academy Awards, because Vestron had missed a payment.

"It is difficult for the court not to believe that once the dispute erupted between Vestron and Hemdale, both Hemdale and HBO saw an opportunity to capitalize on the proven success of the films," Kenyon said in his opinion.

"Any financial hardship inflicted upon HBO is largely its own doing. Vestron should not have to suffer the consequences of HBO's calculated decision to deal with Hemdale under these circumstances," the judge added.

Kenyon declined to order HBO to give Vestron its master tapes to the movies, which Vestron said would allow it to produce its own videos within a month's time. But Leavy said it is likely the parties will hold settlement discussions over the next few weeks "to find a way for those cassettes to finally reach the retailers and the consumers."

Vestron's attorney, Robert Jossen, said the company is "quite pleased" with the court's decision "and we are hopeful that this will lead to a quick resolution of the dispute."

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