It has been nearly two decades since the District Court for the Central District of California ruled that the James Bond character is protected under copyright law in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. v. American Honda Motor Co., 900 F. Supp. 1287, 1296 (C.D. Cal. 1995). In a recently-filed suit against Universal City Studios, MGM is now relying on that precedent to once again ask the same court to enforce its rights in the Bond character and movie franchise. Danjaq, LLC v. Universal City Studios LLC, No. 2:14-cv-02527-DDP-E (C.D. Cal. Apr. 3, 2014). The suit arises after Universal won a heated bidding war with rival studios to purchase a screenplay written by co-defendant Aaron Berg entitled "Section 6," which apparently tells the story about the formation of the British MI6 intelligence agency.
According to MGM's complaint, the "Section 6" screenplay features a "daring, tuxedo-clad British secret agent, employed by 'His Majesty's Secret Service,' with a 'license to kill,' and a 00 ('double-O') secret agent number, on a mission to save England from the diabolical plot of a megalomanical villain." MGM initially wrote Universal a letter in October 2013 to inform Universal that it believed the Berg screenplay infringed MGM's copyright rights in the James Bond films. Apparently recognizing there might be issues with the original version of the screenplay, Universal responded that in the event it elected to develop a motion picture based on the screenplay, such a motion picture would "deviate significantly" from the original version. Universal further indicated in a recent filing that "Under no circumstances is Universal planning to make a movie based on the Original Berg Script as purchased." Rather, according to Universal, it hired Berg to rewrite the original script "as part of the customary process to develop a possible motion picture" and at present has made no decisions about whether to even green light the movie.
The suit appears to have been prompted by news reports earlier this year that Universal had hired a director, lead actor, and producers to work on the movie. To determine whether the movie infringed MGM's copyrights, in March 2013 MGM asked Universal to provide MGM's outside counsel (on an attorneys-eyes-only basis) with the most recent version of the screenplay and any versions that Universal had distributed to garner interest in the project. When Universal refused, MGM's lawsuit followed.
In the event the case does not settle, it appears the court will once again have the opportunity to opine on the parameters of copyright protection for the iconic Bond character.
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