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Monday, July 22, 2024 | Back issues
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Producers Win Legal Fees in ‘Thin Red Line’ Case

(CN) - After prevailing in an eight-year "litigation marathon" over the rights to the WWII film "The Thin Red Line," Phoenix Pictures won its bid for attorney fees and legal costs in Manhattan Federal Court.

Gerard Rubin claimed that he and his company, Briarpatch Ltd., owned the rights to the critically acclaimed film that earned seven Academy Award nominations. He unsuccessfully sued Phoenix, co-founder Morris "Mike" Medavoy, and the film's writer and director, Terrence Malick, for alleged copyright infringement.

"As this court has ruled twice, and as the 2nd Circuit has now confirmed, plaintiffs for over 8 years of litigation have pursued claims that have no factual or legal basis," U.S. District Judge Robert W. Sweet wrote.

After the case was tossed by the federal appeals court, Sweet explained why he was ordering Rubin to pay attorney fees to Phoenix and Medavoy. Malick had previously been dropped from the suit.

"This is a case where an award of fees is important for deterrence and to compensate defendants for expense of this suit which should never have been brought, and even if brought, should never have been litigated as plaintiffs litigated it," he wrote.

Rubin was a limited partner in the production company that sold "The Thin Red Line" to Phoenix. The film was based on a book by James Jones.

Rubin claimed to have contributed millions of dollars in various entertainment projects and expected to reap the rewards if one became successful.

The 1998 war film, which tells a fictional story of U.S. soldiers during the Battle of Guadalcanal, was one of those projects. After buying the rights, Phoenix oversaw the completion of "The Thin Red Line" with a budget of $52 million. While it was a disappointment at the North American box office, grossing only $36 million, the film made $98 million worldwide and enjoyed critical success.

Featuring a cast of A-list actors, including Sean Penn, Adrian Brody, George Clooney, John Cusack and John Travolta, it received seven Oscar nominations, including best picture.

Rubin sued the film's producers and won a $1.5 million judgment in New York State Supreme Court for the profits he should have received through the sale.

But he filed another suit, this time in federal court, claiming that Briarpatch actually owned the film, because Phoenix purportedly violated the agreement.

The case was dismissed due to Rubin's inability to present any written evidence, and he and Briarpatch were "judicially estopped from litigating." But they "continued to press despite no new evidence and no change in applicable law," the ruling states.

Judge Sweet said Rubin filed numerous improper motions and "grossly mischaracterized" testimony.

Though it's fairly common for attorney fees to be awarded in copyright cases, the judge cited "other factors" in awarding the producers attorney fees.

"These other factors ... include improper motivation of the litigant, unreasonable and bad faith tactics, and the need for compensation and deterrence."

Judge Sweet characterized the lawsuit as "an attempt to extract a significant payment from perceived 'deep pocketed' defendants."

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