‘Vice’ suit to proceed

Producer and “Miami Vice” creator Anthony Yerkovich has won a key victory in his lawsuit against MCA over ownership of the ground-breaking TV series.

On Monday, a U.S. District Court judge, while dismissing several claims in favor of arguments lodged by MCA, also let Yerkovich pursue a handful of claims that could call into question the conglom’s property-selling practices.

A jury verdict in favor of Yerkovich, who co-owns the series, could also spark an industry review of the alleged unconscionability of certain TV show agreements. A verdict could also portend a rewrite of pacts that delineate how creators of a property are treated when a theme park attraction or other spinoff property is based on their works.

MCA’s Universal Studios based its “Miami Vice Action Spectacular” show on the popular NBC series, which starred Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas.

U.S. District Court Judge Audrey B. Collins ruled that Yerkovich could pursue claims of breach of contract and copyright infringement and could seek declaratory relief and an accounting of profits.

The ruling “clears the way for an examination of the self-dealing practices of Universal in the way it manages the properties … and how they treat writers,” Yerkovich’s attorney, Joseph Yanny of Fischbach, Perlstein, Lieberman & Yanny, told Daily Variety. “It’s also going to open up some interesting questions that MCA probably would not want answered.”

Yerkovich has never been given an accounting of MCA’s profits, despite the studio earning revenues from licensed merchandise and other ancillary market sales.

The court, however, was persuaded by arguments pleaded by attorneys for MCA and denied the producer’s claims against the Writers Guild of America – saying the dispute could be pursued through arbitration – as well as allegations of breach of fiduciary duty and fraud.

At issue is whether MCA breached an agreement with Yerkovich, a three-time Emmy Award winner, when MCA sold the show to cabler USA Network instead of going the more lucrative syndication route.

The lawsuit, which was filed on June 10, 1994, asserts that by doing so, MCA chose to enhance the value of USA, in which it held an interest, rather than seek the highest possible sale price for the series and generate revenues, which would have flowed to Yerkovich.

Attorneys for MCA declined comment.

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