Closing Arguments in ‘Dungeons & Dragons’

           LOS ANGELES (CN) – Closing arguments concluded Tuesday in a trial over movie rights to “Dungeons & Dragons,” which could determine whether Warner Bros. or Universal gets to make a movie based on the fantasy role-playing game.
     U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee gave plaintiff Hasbro and defendant Sweetpea Entertainment until Oct. 6 to submit their final briefs.
     “I’m going to make my first finding of the case. The rights between the parties look complicated,” Gee said at the end of a six-day trial that began on Sept. 16.
     The parties in the legal battle are Hasbro and filmmaker Courtney Solomon’s Sweetpea Entertainment, but Warner Bros. and Universal Studios have a stake in the outcome.
     Last year, Hasbro sued Solomon’s Sweetpea after the production company reached an agreement with Warner Bros. to make a movie called “Chainmail.” Warner reportedly has entered into a multimillion-dollar agreement with Sweetpea for “Chainmail,” and put up $1 million so Sweetpea could fight Hasbro in court.
     Hasbro’s lawsuit for copyright and trademark infringement coincided with reports that it was planning to make its own D&D movie at Universal Studios.
     Gee’s interpretation of two 1998 amendments to Sweetpea’s licensing agreement will determine the matter.
     Solomon was 19 when he secured rights to make a movie based on the game from previous D&D owner, TSR. Wizards of the Coast bought TSR before Wizards became a subsidiary of Hasbro in 1999.
     A year later, Solomon helmed the first “Dungeons & Dragons” movie, starring Marlon Wayans, Thora Birch and Jeremy Irons.
     The film was a commercial and critical flop that stoked the ire of the game’s legion of international fans.
     “Well, folks, here it is, the movie we’ve all been waiting for,” a fan wrote on Amazon.com after the movie came out on DVD in 2001. “The only problem is, it’s NOT the movie we’ve been waiting for. There must be some sort of mistake.”
     Solomon did not direct the second movie, but he was involved in the production of a second film that was broadcast on the SyFy basic cable channel as “Wrath of the Dragon God” in 2005.
     Solomon extended his license to Silver Pictures to produce a third movie, which came out in 2012. That film, “The Book of Vile Darkness,” was also shown for the first time on SyFy, and is at the root of the current dispute, about whether it’s a television movie or a non-theatrical sequel.
      Hasbro claims that because the film was made for television, rights to the movie revert back to the toy company.
     In closing arguments, Hasbro attorney Jeremy Goldman said that under Sweetpea and Solomon’s watch the first movie was a “disappointing” flop that fans “detested.”
     Solomon’s “passion vanished,” Goldman said, and the filmmaker left the job of making D&D movies to “Book of Vile Darkness” producer Steve Richards, who appeared as a third-party witness during trial.
     “It can come as no surprise to Mr. Solomon that his time with the D&D movie rights, his 20-year campaign, is over,” Goldman said. “It’s time for the D & D movie rights to return home to Hasbro.”
     There was no doubt, Goldman said, that the first Dungeons & Dragons film and “The Book of Vile Darkness” had almost nothing in common with one another, aside from “generic fantasy tropes.”
     “Other than the fact that there’s ‘3’ slapped on the title and it has the words ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ in it, this third movie is in no way connected to the original picture,” Goldman said.
     Sweetpea attorney Patty Glaser, however, said the explicit wording of the parties’ second amendment to Sweetpea’s 1994 license made clear that Hasbro had conjured up what she described as a “fourth” agreement out of thin air.
     “We want to live with the agreement,” Glaser said. “They don’t.”
     The manner of distribution did not revert rights back to Hasbro, Glaser said.
     “‘Dungeons & Dragons 3 [The Book of Vile Darkness]’, by the way, was released on DVD,” Glaser said. “What are they complaining about? It’s the same release pattern that’s occurred with ‘Dungeons & Dragons 2 [Wrath of the Dragon God]’. The fact that ‘Dungeons & Dragons 3’ was broadcast on SyFy doesn’t turn it into a made-for-television movie.”
     As to Hasbro’s claim that “The Book of Vile Darkness” only contained generic elements, Glaser said that Hasbro had approved the movie.
     “There is no question that Hasbro blessed it. They blessed the content. And no one at Hasbro said, ‘Excuse me, this isn’t based on the picture creations and property. What are you doing?'”
     Glaser said it is irrelevant whether or not Solomon’s D&D movies are any good.
     “Whether he’s a good guy or bad guy, a talented director and producer or not … There is absolutely no reversion, he has the right to make his tentpole picture,” Glaser said in a nod to Sweetpea’s deal with Warner Bros.
     The high stakes of the trial were reflected in often tense proceedings in which counsel on both sides accused their counterparts of being uncooperative.
     Judge Gee frequently had to remind attorneys not to interrupt one another or witnesses. The unrelenting objections on both sides would have made a writer of courtroom dramas take pause.
     Solomon was present for the duration of the trial, sitting to left of his attorney, Christopher Caldwell. On Tuesday morning, Solomon took the stand as Sweetpea’s final witness before it closed its case.
     Glaser is with Glaser Weil. Caldwell is partner at Caldwell Leslie.
     Goldman and are Maura Wogan are with New York firm Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz.
     They were joined by Michael Weinsten of Lavely & Singer for Hasbro.

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