Will Smith’s movie about the life of Serena Williams and Venus Williams’ fathere may still be shut down from concerns over the coronavirus pandemic, but King Richard certainly is being served in the courts thanks to a potentially multimillion-dollar breach of contract lawsuit.
“This case presents an unfortunate and tawdry situation: the cold and calculating misappropriation and interference with Plaintiffs’ intellectual property,” says the seven-claim complaint from TW3 Entertainment and Power Move Multi Media filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on Tuesday against Smith’s loan-out company and Warner Bros, among others, over the Reinaldo Marcus Green-directed film. “Plaintiffs’ good faith and contractually protected efforts to bring an amazing story into visual art form were met with Defendants’ greed and disregard for Plaintiff’s existing rights.”
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Along with the AT&T-owned studio, Bad Boys star Smith’s Overbrook Entertainment, Richard Williams himself, his son and sometimes business partner Chavoita Lesane, and production company Star Thrower Entertainment and its key executives are also named as defendants in the lawsuit.
The plaintiffs claim in the suit that they bought the rights to Williams’ book for a mere $10,000 three years ago from Lesane, who was involved in an initial draft of a script for the project too. The complaint details that the elder Williams allegedly gave limited power of attorney to Lesane, for “purposes of dealing with film and media rights for his book.” It was in that vein that TW3 and PMMM supposedly picked up rights to the memoir of the father of two of the greatest tennis players of all time for what could be considered nickels on the dollar.
Putting more of a backspin on the situation now, not only do the Neville Johnson-represented TW3 and PMMM want wide-ranging unspecified damages from the big-budget King Richard movie, their court action also seeks “an injunction requiring all profits for any project using the Richard Williams Rights to be placed in trust for Plaintiffs’ benefit.”
“Plaintiffs and Warner Bros. entered into an implied-in-fact contract, based on their
conduct as alleged above, whereby Plaintiffs disclosed ideas and materials regarding the Richard Williams Rights to Defendants for sale, i.e., in consideration for Defendant Warner Bros’ obligation to pay and credit Plaintiffs if Defendant Warner Bros. or any of its affiliated entities used any of those ideas or materials in any motion picture, television program merchandising program, or otherwise,” the jury trial seeking complaint proclaims (read it here).
In the past couple of years, the elder Williams supposedly sold rights to his life to the King Richard filmmakers for $1 million, thereby kneecapping the earlier TW3 and PMMM agreements.
With a shifting cast of characters, the lawsuit is full of dense dealmaking, high-stakes pitch sessions and sit-downs with WB Entertainment EVP and CFO Kim Williams (no relation), plus a mention of a March 2019 Deadline scoop on Star Thrower shopping a King Richard script by Zach Baylin, and the CAA-repped Smith getting onboard. Ultimately, TW3 and PMMM’s complaint boils down to their assertion that they were working on the Richard Williams story before Warner Bros and Overbrook made a deal for a vehicle with Smith in the lead role.
“Defendant Warner Bros. used Plaintiffs’ ideas and materials in King Richard, and such ideas and materials provide substantial value to Defendant,” the complaint goes on to assert amidst claims of a May 2017 agreement for rights to the elder Williams’s 2014 memoir Black and White: The Way I See It and “Plaintiffs’ pre-existing property rights.”
Not only is the thrust that Star Thrower and WB knew TW3 and PMMM owned the rights to Williams’ book and life, but that they even saw the small company’s efforts directly. “However, Defendant has not compensated or credited Plaintiffs for the use of such ideas and materials. Accordingly, Defendant has breached, and continues to breach, its implied-in-fact contract with Plaintiffs,” the suit states in some of the bluntest language to be found in the entire complaint.
“Plaintiffs reasonably expected to be compensated for such use of any of their ideas or materials, and Defendant Warner Bros. voluntarily accepted Plaintiffs’ offer and disclosures, knowing the conditions on which they were made, i.e., that any use of any of Plaintiff’s ideas or materials in any motion picture, television program, merchandising program, or otherwise, whether by Defendant Warner Bros. or any of its affiliates, carried with an obligation to, inter alin, compensate and credit Plaintiffs for such use,” the filing also says.
Warner Bros declined to comment and Overbrook did not responded to request for comment from Deadline on the matter. With that in mind, as King Richard optimistically looks to a 2021 release date, you can be damn sure the heavy-hitter defendants will be launching a response to the plaintiffs, with the near dominance of Serena’s running forehand, in court in time.
See ya courtside, literally and figuratively.
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