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COMPANY TOWN : MGM Files Suit to Bar Sony From Making Bond Films

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

One month after Sony Pictures Entertainment announced it planned to get in on the $3-billion James Bond film franchise by making its own Bond movies, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer filed a lawsuit to stop the competition.

Filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, the suit seeks $25 million and to establish MGM/UA as the sole owner of the James Bond rights along with Danjaq (controlled by the Broccoli family, heirs of longtime Bond producer Albert “Cubby” Broccoli).

The suit seeks to bar Sony--and specifically President John Calley, whom the suit characterizes as a “disgruntled former executive of [MGM’s] United Artists Pictures"--from going forward with any Bond films.

The suit also names Kevin McClory as a defendant. McClory, producer of the 1965 Bond film, “Thunderball,” maintains that he has the right to make more of the films.

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The charges include copyright infringement, unfair competition and misappropriation of trade secrets. MGM has produced 18 Bond films, with the latest, “Tomorrow Never Dies,” due out in December. The 1995 film “GoldenEye,” produced while Calley was president of UA, revitalized MGM’s Bond franchise.

MGM alleges that Sony deliberately timed its Bond announcement to coincide with MGM’s initial public offering this month. “Sony Pictures’ and John Calley’s decision to wait until the eve of MGM’s IPO was nothing more than a wanton and calculated attempt to maximize the damage from their unlawful scheme,” MGM contends in the suit.

MGM downsized its IPO from 12.5 million shares to 9 million after a number of investors and analysts expressed concern that the stock was overvalued. Although the studio has a rich library, it has not made a profit for nearly a decade.

Some had speculated that MGM would wait until Sony had a completed script before it sued for copyright infringement. “We’re not waiting for Sony to complete the ‘crime.’ We’re going to nip it in the bud,” said MGM’s lead outside counsel, Pierce O’Donnell.

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Only two Bond movies--"Thunderball” and “Casino Royale” (1967)--have been released outside the MGM/UA fold. According to MGM’s lawsuit, McClory’s rights to “Thunderball” are limited exclusively to that property. The suit quotes Calley saying in The Times that by entering into an agreement with McClory, Sony would be able to “put through a number of very exciting Bond movies.”

O’Donnell said he is confident his clients will be shown to be the sole owners of “the most valuable franchise in cinema history.” It may take a while to prove, though: It will probably be more than a year before the matter gets to trial, he said.

Sony spokesman Bruce Redditt said Monday that the studio was still reviewing the lawsuit and had no comment.


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