MGM claims that Starz is turning a “routine licensing dispute” into “an overblown federal copyright case,” as it seeks to dismiss almost all of the pay TV network’s allegations that the studio’s television division violated exclusivity provisions on more than 300 movies and TV titles.
In a motion to dismiss filed in U.S. District Court on Monday (read it here), attorneys for MGM Domestic Television Distribution contend that the Starz’s claims are time-barred by the statute of limitations, except for one title.
“Although Starz pleaded that MGM violated its rights starting in 2015 or earlier, it has failed to identify any title for which an alleged infringement or breach occurred within either limitations period except for Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. This defect in pleading warrants dismissal of 339 of the 340 titles at issue in the Complaint,” the attorneys, led by Jay Srinivasan of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, wrote.
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In its lawsuit, filed in May, Starz claimed that MGM violated the terms of library agreements after an employee discovered Bill & Ted was available for streaming on Amazon, even though it should have been exclusive to the pay TV platform.
“Starz, however, discovered that Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure was far from the only film that MGM appeared to have improperly licensed,” the Starz lawsuit claimed, adding that the alleged breaches of contract led to “at least one major distributor to question Starz’s value and significantly damaged Starz’s relationship with that distributor.”
MGM’s attorneys contend that Starz “seeks to blame MGM, a film and television studio, for Starz’s decline in marketplace standing. But Starz’s competitive weakness is the result of secular market disruption from cord-cutting and streaming competition, not a run-of-the-mill licensing dispute with MGM.” Yet, MGM’s motion states, “Lionsgate has touted substantial increases in Starz’s subscriber base and a successful transition to new distribution arrangements in its recent earnings calls and financial reports.”
“Whatever motivated Starz to file this lawsuit now, its claims are massively overstated and commercially insignificant,” MGM’s attorneys wrote in the motion to dismiss. “And while MGM will fully expose a host of other fatal defects in Starz’s larded-up Complaint in due time, this motion properly seeks dismissal of hundreds of incurably time-barred claims as a matter of law before the parties and the Court expend significant time and resources on meritless litigation.”
Starz’s lawsuit also lists other movies, including Mad Max, the original Terminator, Rain Man, Hannibal, Moonstruck, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, as well as James Bond movies. In its motion to dismiss, MGM’s attorneys also claimed that “nearly one-third” of Starz’s claims have to due with the licensing of 108 episodes of the 1950s TV series Bat Masterson.
MGM also suggested that the rights issues may have been due to error.
“Although entertainment content owners and licensees maintain rights-tracking databases and contract-management systems to preemptively identify instances of overlapping windows (or ‘collisions’) with other third-party licensees, these systems are dependent on human input and operation, so error sometimes occur,” the studio’s attorneys wrote.
“While such often-technical collisions are customarily resolved in the ordinary course of business through ‘make goods’ or other negotiated concessions, Starz flatly refused to meaningfully engage with MGM or discuss these issues on a title-by-title basis after the matter first surfaced and MGM provided a preliminary assessment in November 2019.”
MGM’s attorneys also noted that the statute of limitations period is three years for its copyright claims and four years for its breach of contract and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing claims.
A hearing in the lawsuit is scheduled for Sept. 11 before Judge Dolly M. Gee.
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