EXCLUSIVE: Is a fight over the right to use the name and work and trademark of America’s Sweetheart heading to court? An announcement posted April 2nd by the 10-year-old Mary Pickford Institute of Film Education claims its yearly funding of $500,000 was “yanked by its long time supporter the Mary Pickford Foundation”. Now a petition protesting the move has made the matter very public. And both sides have lawyers in place: Terry Mazura of the Mazura Law Firm in Santa Ana representing the Foundation and Jennifer Hughes of Hughes Media Law in Beverly Hills representing the Institute. Established by the silent film star in 1958, the Foundation created the Institute as an independent non-profit in 2002. The Foundation says it put over $4.2 million into the Institute over the years. But the relationship ended on March 1st when their latest five-year contract expired. “There was nothing sudden about this. I’d been telling them since September 2011 we were going in a new direction,” Pickford Foundation chair Henry Stotsenberg tells Deadline. “I wish them well but they never became self-sufficient.”

Here’s the problem: the Foundation contends it owns the trademark to the late United Artists co-founder’s name and work. The Institute says it owns the domain name and the right to use the silent film star’s name, image and films in its youth filmmaking programs and fundraising. The domain name is registered to Timeline Films, whose offices are the same as the Institute’s.

Pickford Institute Director Andi Hicks tells Deadline that, on February 8th, a Foundation attorney offered them $150,000 to effectively terminate the relationship. In exchange “for paying off any outstanding obligations the Institute had”, Hicks says the Foundation wanted them to give up its Mary Pickford domain name and any use of the legend’s name and to reclaim some personal memorabilia that was donated over the years. Stotsenberg contends the offer was a “goodwill gesture” intended to ease the Institute’s debts and “to help them get started on their own. Then they hired a lawyer and demanded we give them even more than the half a million a year we had been giving them already.” Contact ceased in February.

Pickford died at age 87 in 1979 and was recently named 24th among the greatest female motion picture stars of all time by the American Film Institute. The co-founder of the film studio United Artists also was one of the original 36 founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.