Room With A View filmmakers Merchant Ivory are suing the distributers behind the Criterion Collection series for copyright infringement. In a 16-page complaint (read it here) filed Monday in Manhattan federal court, Merchant Ivory claims Janus Films is distributing 25 of the company’s movies despite an expired licensing deal. “Defendant Janus, without the permission, authorization or consent of Plaintiffs, has licensed and copied, distributed, reproduced, modified, performed and/or displayed the films in the Film Library, or have permitted others to do so, without the permission or consent of Plaintiffs, and continue to do so recklessly, willfully and maliciously in an attempt to damage the Plaintiff and enrich itself,” says the complaint. Wanting a jury trial, Merchant Ivory is seeking the court to stop Janus from further distribution as well as statutory damages of $150,000 for each infringement plus legal fees. Merchant Ivory is also seeking well any profits Janus many have made from the films in question and any losses it might have incurred in not being able to distribute them.In late 1999, Merchant Ivory and Janus entered into a 10-year license agreement that gave the latter distribution rights to 26 of the former’s films. That agreement was amended in 2009 with rights to 21 of the films extended to December 31, 2010, the rights to The Bostonians, Maurice and Heat and Dust extended to December 31, 2011 and the rights to Howard’s End extended to March 13, 2014. Even though the complaint admits that Merchant Ivory was allowing Janus to further distribute the films that permission could be “terminable at will.” What made the whole thing even more complicated is that Merchant Ivory was engaged in an arbitration with a company called ACKMA Recovery that gave them approval rights over any future distribution of the company’s films. Correspondingly in mid-2011, HanWay Films had approached Janus for a deal on U.S. distribution of the Film Library. A deal that Merchant Ivory says Janus had no right to engage in and would not cease despite Merchant Ivory’s insistence. Hence this lawsuit. Merchant Ivory is represented by the New York law firm of Merle, Brown and Nakamura P.C.
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