The appellate division of the Supreme Court of New York has determined that Paramount Pictures has distribution rights to 16 vintage movies, despite the claims by Richard Feiner & Co. Inc. that it owns the exclusive rights in certain markets. In 1986, the New York company Richard Feiner & Co. sold the rights to exploit 16 feature-length films produced in the 1940s and 1950s to Republic Pictures for almost $2.5 million. In the contract, Feiner was to retain and the rights to show the movies markets where it currently had existing licenses, which included New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and 18 other others. Feiner claimed that in 2007, Paramount–which took over Republic’s rights to the films — had violated the contract by showing the works on American Movie Classics and Turner Classic Movies TV in the plaintiff’s selected markets. Paramount did not dispute the airings, but argued that it had not collected any royalties on the airing of the films from June, 2001, to May, 2010.
The lower court had denied Paramount’s motion for summary judgment, ruling that there was an issue of material fact as to whether Paramount’s national cable licenses violate Feiner’s local broadcast licenses. But the First Department New York Appellate Division ruled that Paramount’s evidence is sufficient to have Feiner’s claim dismissed. Feiner claimed that, under the agreement, it retained not only the rights in the preexisting local licenses and any proceeds therefrom but also the exclusive right to exploit the pictures in the markets covered by those licenses.
The court disagreed with that contract interpretation. “We do not read the rights in the preexisting local Licenses as establishing the exclusive right to exploit the Pictures in the markets covered by those Licenses. On the contrary, a plain reading of [the relevant Paragraph] establishes that plaintiff retained only the benefit of the performance of the licenses, namely the proceeds.” Therefore, “since the defendant [had] received no royalties, fees or proceeds of any kind from the licenses…, there could be no breach.”
“In the present case, the contract, read as a whole to determine its purpose and intent, plainly manifests the intention to grant defendant’s predecessor the right to exploit the 17 pictures through national cable deals, unimpeded by the licenses,” the justices wrote in the unsigned opinion.
The movies in the deal were: Johnny Come Lately, Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye, Blood on the Sun, Bugles in the Afternoon, Mission in Morocco, Only the Valiant, Blowing Wild, Cloak and Dagger, Court Martial of Billy Mitchell, Distant Drums, The Enforcer, Marjorie Morningstar, My Girl Tisa, Three Secrets, South of St. Louis and Pursued, Retreat, Hell!