Bloomberg News

Bronson Trust, Filmmakers Sue Studios for Royalties

January 17, 2013

Sony Corp. (6758)’s Sony Pictures Entertainment and three other Hollywood studios were sued by filmmakers and the estate of the late actor Charles Bronson over claims they underpaid royalties on home video sales.

Larry Martindale, the trustee of the Bronson Survivors’ Trust, said in a complaint filed yesterday in California state court in Los Angeles that Sony Pictures calculates the share of its profit from home videos it pays the trust based on only 20 percent of its revenue from home video sales rather than the full 100 percent.

The Bronson trustee accuses the studio of breach of contract and seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages. He also seeks to represent other so-called profit participants nationwide in a class-action lawsuit.

When home video distribution started, the studios used independent distributors that paid the studios a 20 percent royalty from their sales from which profit participants were paid, according to the Bronson trustee’s complaint. The studios have since set up their own in-house home video distribution operations, according to the complaint.

“After the studios established their own home video divisions, they continued the practice of only reporting 20 percent of actual receipts to profit participants, as if the profits earned by these divisions were not their own and not subject to eventual disbursement to the profit participants as well,” the trust said.

Bronson, who died in 2003, starred in movies including “The Dirty Dozen,” “Death Wish” and “The Magnificent Seven.”

‘Foul Play’

Similar complaints were filed today by Colin Higgins Productions Ltd., the business entity of the late “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” and “Foul Play” writer and director Colin Higgins, against Viacom Inc. (VIAB:US)’s Paramount Pictures and Comcast Corp. (CMCSA:US)’s Universal Studios.

“Singin’ in the Rain” and “Funny Face” director Stanley Donen filed a lawsuit against News Corp. (NWSA:US)’s Twentieth Century Fox. His 1974 profit participation contract with Fox for “Lucky Lady” provides that he should get 5 percent of the “adjusted gross receipts” of the movie after the break-even point based on 100 percent of the gross receipts, according to Donen’s complaint.

Erica Netzley, a Sony Pictures spokeswoman, said in an e-mailed statement, ``We have not been served and do not have any comment at this time.''

Kori Bernards, a spokeswoman for Universal, and Paramount spokesman Robert Lawson declined to comment on the lawsuits. Chris Petrikin, a Twentieth Century Fox spokesman, also declined to comment.

The cases are Colin Higgins Productions v. Paramount Pictures, BC499179; Colin Higgins Productions v. Universal City Studios, 499180; Stanley Donen Films v. Twentieth Century Fox, BC499181; Martindale v. Sony Pictures Entertainment, BC499182, Los Angeles County Superior Court.

To contact the reporter on this story: Edvard Pettersson in Los Angeles at epettersson@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net.


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