UPDATE, 4:13 PM: You can’t accuse Aretha Franklin on moving slow in the courts. Just hours after she dismissed her copyright-infringement lawsuit against the Telluride Film Festival over Amazing Grace, the Queen of Soul today reached a temporary détente with the documentary’s producer Alan Elliott – emphasis on the word temporary. This comes days after Franklin filed an amended complaint against Elliott over the film’s buyer screenings at the Toronto Film Festival.
“Rather than going through the expense of another emergency TRO hearing before this Court, Mr. Elliott and Ms. Franklin have stipulated to (and signed) the attached Stipulated Order enjoining Elliott from screening, showing or otherwise using for commercial purposes the Film or 1972 gospel concert footage for 30 days,” says the unopposed motion put before federal Judge John Kane on Tuesday (read it here). “If either party seeks a Court hearing before the 30 days expires, then the Order remains in force until the conclusion of any such hearing.”
Back in 2011, the parties worked out a settlement over the Sydney Pollack-directed film, but that seemed to fall apart earlier this month when Amazing Grace screenings at Telluride and Toronto were apparently set without Franklin’s permission. Then, after getting a temporary restraining order September 4, the whole thing erupted again over the private TIFF screenings — and they think they can work out a deal in 30 days? Obviously money is the key here, whether the millions Franklin’s camp believes is in play over the pic that WME is the sales agent for or some other sum. Expect some sour notes before this song is over.
PREVIOUS EXCLUSIVE, 11:03 AM: The Colorado mountain-high film festival is over, and so is the Queen of Soul’s copyright infringement action against it over Amazing Grace. “The 2015 Telluride Film Festival has concluded, and as a result of this Court’s September 4, 2015 Order, the film was not screened,” lawyers for Aretha Franklin said yesterday in a notice of voluntary dismissal (read it here). “Thus, there is no further need for a hearing on Plaintiff’s Motion for Preliminary Injunction as the motion is now moot.”
This follows the singer’s successful temporary restraining order to halt a scheduled September 4 showing of the documentary Amazing Grace. Telluride, which ran from September 4-7, pulled the opening-day showing of the Sydney Pollack-helmed film, centered on Franklin’s 1972 performance in L.A.’s New Missionary Baptist Church.
But don’t think that Franklin, scheduled to preform for Pope Francis on September 26 in Philadelphia, has completely turned the other cheek. “This Voluntary Notice of Dismissal applies exclusively to Plaintiff’s claims against Defendant Telluride Film Festival and shall not impact Plaintiff’s claims against any other Defendant,” says the September 14 filing. All of which means the singer is still going after producer Alan Elliott.
In her initial complaint, which Federal Judge John Kane agreed with, Franklin argued that not only had copyright law, right to publicity and the federal anti-bootlegging statute been violated but also the quitclaim agreement that obtained the decades-old footage from Warner Bros. In stopping Amazing Grace from debuting at Telluride, the singer noted that any and all “commercial use of the footage” can only be used and hence screened with her permission – permission that Franklin says she never gave Elliott.
Franklin had gone after Elliott in the courts in 2011 over the film, but the parties came to a settlement. In this case, where Franklin also sought more than $75,000 in damages, Amazing Grace was not only shut down at Telluride but also pulled from several planned screenings at the Toronto Film Festival at the last minute. Although Elliott took the pic off ticketed screenings at TIFF, there was a private screening for potential buyers by sales agent WME on September 12 – a screening that led to more legal action by Franklin.
N. Reid Neureiter of Denver firm Wheeler Trigg O’Donnell LLP represents Franklin in the actions.