The legal battle over whether production company Sweetpea Entertainment or toy giant Hasbro owns sequel rights to Dungeons & Dragons came has come to an end — at least for now. But the seven-day trial that wrapped late Tuesday in federal court in downtown LA did not end quietly.
“Hasbro cannot have it both ways,” attorney Patricia Glaser said in her closing statement, calling out the company for disputing a 2010 D&D movie sequel but not a 2005 one and dragging her client, Sweetpea and its owner Courtney Solomon, into court. Noting the “tentpole opportunity” the production company has with Warner Bros, Glaser added, “only Sweetpea, not Hasbro, has the right to make a movie with Dungeons & Dragons as its primary title.”
Of course Hasbro sees it differently, which is why they rolled the dice with its initial complaint last May. “Hasbro has a right to begin to make movies of its own based on the property,” said lawyer Jeremy Goldman in his closing before Judge Dolly Gee. “Mr. Solomon had his shot with Dungeons & Dragons — he held on to the rights for over 20 years,” he added, alluding to Solomon directing an unsuccessful D&D pic in 2000.
“It should come as no surprise to Mr. Solomon that his campaign to hold on to the Dungeon & Dragons rights is over, “ the NYC-based Frankfurt Kurnit Klein lawyer said. “They should return home to Hasbro.”
There were a lot fewer Hasbro execs in the courtroom than when the trial started September 16. However, with Warner Bros SVP and Deputy General Counsel Clara Pope and other studio reps looking on, the real players in this game were clear. Although their names don’t appear in any of the claims and counterclaims, this trial is really a shadow war between Warners and Universal over which studio will make the next D&D movie.
Ahead of this trial, Warner Bros purchased Solomon and Sweetpea’s D&D rights for around $4 million plus another $1 million for legal fees. That is a fact Warners’ Biz Affairs SVP Jun Oh implicitly admitted to when asked Monday whether “Warner Bros has a written, signed agreement with Sweetpea to co-control this very litigation.” On the other side, Hasbro has a “deal,” as one of their lawyers Michael Weinsten said, with Universal to do a D&D movie of its own. Both studios are looking to this case to clear up the chain of title so they can move ahead.
They may be waiting awhile.
“The rights between the two parties are complicated,” said Gee said Tuesday after both sides gave closing statements. She encouraged the parties to come up with an agreement instead of waiting for a decision from her. “There are two possible outcomes for a trial,” she cautioned. “One side wins, one side loses, or both sides are unhappy.”
As she had at the beginning of the trial, Glaser on Tuesday characterized Hasbro’s claims against Sweetpea as a “desperate attempt to recapture rights they’ve been trying to get for 15 years.” Solomon inked an agreement with original D&D rights holder TSR in 1994 for movies based on the bestselling fantasy role-playing game. He followed up with the next owner Wizards Of The Coast with two amendments in 1998. Hasbro acquired Wizards in 1999. The toy company has disputed that the D&D sequels Solomon “outsourced” to Silver Pictures were not sequels as defined by their agreements or industry standards – especially with the last two films finding their primary U.S. home on cable TV.
“Mr. Solomon has not built Dungeons & Dragons into a franchise, into a trilogy,” Goldman said in his closing, mocking 2010’s D&D: Book Of Vile Darkness. (The third D&D movie was released on DVD in the UK and shown on Syfy in the U.S., like 2005’s D&D: Wrath Of The Dragon God.) “Besides having the name Dungeons & Dragons slapped on it, the third movie is in to no way connected to the first D&D movie,” Goldman told the court.
On Monday, Sweetpea filed a motion to have Hasbro’s trademark and copyright infringement claims from last year’s complaint tossed. It argued Sweetpea and Solomon had nothing initially to do with a script for another potential D&D pic, Chainmail, that Warner Bros created and hence had not infringed anything on Hasbro. The toy company saw the now discarded Chainmail script in 2012 before Sweetpea and decided to pass on it.
Disputing Sweetpea’s claim that Hasbro has a trademark for D&D pics, the company on Tuesday filed its own paperwork rejecting the bid for a judgment on partial findings. Hasbro says it has significant D&D trademarks in “a broad range of categories.”
Earlier in the day, Solomon, director of the first D&D movie and the man at the center of the case was on the stand as the trial’s final witness. In perhaps the understatement of the whole matter, at one point in his testimony Solomon characterized his relationship with Hasbro as “not the best of friends.” That lack of a friendship didn’t stop Solomon or Glaser from trying to display how he had attempted to do right by his agreement with Hasbro by picture creation and incorporating the unique D&D brand into the three movies in question. With Jeremy Irons among those onscreen, more than a dozen clips from the 2000 D&D pic and the more recent Book of Vile Darkness played on courtroom monitors, with images of Red Dragons, teleportation spells, vicious blades, healing magic and magic blood.
Goldman and Maura Wogan of Frankfurt Kurnit Klein, with Michael Weinsten of LA’s Lavely & Singer PC, are the lead attorneys for Hasbro. Glaser and David Sergenian of LA’s Glaser Weil Fink Jacobs Howard Avchen & Shapiro LLP are Sweetpea’s prime litigation counsel.