Film Distributor Accused of Flouting License

     MANHATTAN (CN) – Janus Films continued to distribute two dozen movies well after its licensing agreement had expired, the owners of a film library claim in Federal Court.
     Read Courthouse News’ Entertainment Law Digest.
     Janus Films’ licensing agreement ended on or before Dec. 31, 2011 for the vast majority of films in the collection, Merchant Ivory Productions claims. Titles include “The Perfect Murder,” “In Custody,” “The Proprietor,” “Heat and Dust” and “Jane Austen in Manhattan,” according to the lawsuit.
     Janus Films, also known as Criterion Films, was granted extensions for three movies, including “Howard’s End,” which it was allowed to distribute through March 13, 2014. Its right to distribute the rest expired in either 1999 or 2011, according to Merchant Ivory.
     The production company claims it could not strike a new license deal with Janus without the approval of (nonparty) ACKMA Recovery, with whom it was tangled in arbitration.
     It claims Janus knew this, but continued to shop the films to other distributors, “assuming that it would eventually reach a deal with Merchant Ivory.”
     Merchant Ivory allowed Janus to keep exploiting the films after the 1999 agreement expired, under the strict condition that the license could be terminated “at will,” according to the lawsuit.
     Janus agreed to this condition, but then claimed to have signed a 15-year sublicensing deal with (nonparty) HanWay Films, “notwithstanding all of Merchant Ivory’s prior advises (sic) and admonitions,” the lawsuit states.
     “On February 13, 2012, Merchant Ivory sent a letter to Janus ordering it to cease and desist from distributing the Film Library,” the production company claims.
     “Janus has refused to do so, and willfully, and in violation of Plaintiffs’ rights and instructions, continues to distribute the Film Library without a license or authorization to do so,” Merchant Ivory claims.
     Merchant Ivory and two other rights owners, The Bostonians Productions and James Ivory, accuse Janus Films of copyright infringement and contributory copyright infringement and want the distributor to pay $150,000 “for each work willfully infringed.”
     They also seek an order blocking Janus from exploiting any movies in their film library, including “Howard’s End.”
     Their attorney is Stephen Nakamura of Merle, Brown and Nakamura in New York.

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