la dolce vitaLife isn’t so sweet for a film company that claimed ownership of the 1960 Federico Fellini masterpiece, La Dolce Vita Fellini, who was known for his inimitable cinematic style that left an indelible legacy on the film world, had two companies locked in a tug of war over La Dolce, which stars Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg.

The chain of title dispute between International Media Films Inc. and Melange Pictures LLC was settled by the U.S. District Court in California, which granted summary judgment in favor of Paramount Pictures Corp. and Melange.  The court held that International Media Films was liable for contributory copyright infringement through its licensing of the films rights.

The competing ownership claims have their roots with the same company, Cinemat S.A., which acquired La Dolce rights from Riama Films in 1962.  Plaintiff Paramount, exclusive licensee of Melange’s  rights in the film, asserted that its chain of title came from a 1962 transfer from Cinemat to Astor Pictures.  IMF contended that it owned the rights to the film through a transfer from Cinemat to Hor A.G. in 1980.

This lawsuit arose out of IMF’s exploitation of film rights in the United States, which both sides concede began in 2003.  IMF has granted licenses to reproduce, distribute, license, sub-license and to manufacture “video devices” such as videotapes, DVDs and digital formats. Paramount filed a complaint alleging five causes of action: (1) declaratory relief as to defendant’s lack of ownership of copyright in the film; (2) declaratory relief as to plaintiffs’ exclusive ownership of United States copyright in the Film; (3) direct copyright infringement; (4) contributory copyright infringement; and (5) vicarious copyright infringement.

Paramount then sought summary judgment.

Finding that IMF fell short, the court agreed with Paramount, finding, that taken at face value, the studio showed a valid chain of title to American and Canadian rights with its authenticated evidence, and, thus, proven ownership of the copyright.  IMF, on the other hand, failed to authenticate documents that purported to transfer film rights from Cinemat to Hor in 1980; the court also rejected witnesses’ declarations about ownership because IMF’s failed to disclose their identities.

Paramount failed in its claims against IMF for direct and vicarious copyright infringement. U.S. District Judge James Otero found no evidence IMF engaged in direct infringement by reproducing or distributing the film;  it lacked a right to control or supervise direct infringers, leading to liability for vicarious infringement. Otero did hold IMF liable for contributory infringement. That’s because it issued licenses that led to  infringement and received distribution royalties.

La Dolce Vita, which Fellini wrote and directed, recounts a week in the life of a philandering journalist in Rome and the demimonde world in which he lives. Roger Ebert, late the Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic, gave the film a thumbs up, five stars and wrote after viewing the move on Mastroianni’s death: “Fellini and Marcello had taken a moment of discovery and made it immortal.” It won the 1962 Oscar for Best Costume Design. And IMF’s website states that its CEO Alfredo Leone is developing it  into a Broadway Musical.

Unfamiliar with this classic? Here’s one of its memorable scenes: