Although it may be fashionable to criticize screenplays from days past as quaint and almost cliche in how their plot complications tied up so neatly, a judge in Los Angeles has provided a tidy $6.8 million curtain-closer to a lawsuit over disputed right payments for some older films. In doing so, Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle has agreed with plaintiffs that there really was foul play over sums owed to the estates of Foul Play screenwriter Colin Higgins and others.
Berle recently approved a $6.8 million settlement of a class action lawsuit against Paramount Pictures Corp. by Colin Higgins Productions. The suit disputed video royalty payments, and was one of several legal actions filed against Hollywood studios, and now slowly coming to resolution.
The studios for decades have pocketed 80 percent of home video royalties. That standard was set in the 1980s, when home video distribution was booming. Studios then would outsource home video distribution to third parties, which paid studios a flat 20 percent royalty rate. The studios then paid profit-participants a 20 percent royalty based on what they received.
But studios since then have created and maintained their own home video divisions. But they continued to act as if they worked with outsiders and got less on older films, continuing to pay 20 percent to profit participants and to pocket 80 percent, according to the Higgins suit (a tip of the hat to the Hollywood Reporter for posting that and other pertinent documents online).
Paramount was one of four major Hollywood studios hit in 2013 with class-action suits, asserting that they “systematically underpay profit participants on movies distributed via home video,” according to The Hollywood Reporter. The plaintiffs claimed “the studio[s] improperly reported and underpaid the profits from home video and digital streaming revenues for movies created before 1980.”
Under the settlement of the Higgins suit, the $6.8 million will be split into two funds, for sums already earned on movies that were profitable, and another for possible future earnings; the settlement also covers up to $1.24 million in attorney fees and costs. The plaintiffs in the class number 145, including Higgins Productions, “the loan-out company for the services” of the late, noted screenwriter.