Judge postpones Dec. 15 trial date

Sony Corp. scored a minor victory in its pursuit of a James Bond franchise when the trial judge agreed to postpone the Dec. 15 trial date. The delay is to give the appellate court an opportunity to rule on Sony’s appeal of the preliminary injunction won by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which bars Sony from developing a Bond series while the case is pending.

In his order, U.S. District Court Judge Edward Rafeedie of Los Angeles noted that the 9th Circuit’s ruling “may have a sig-nificant effect” on the issues for trial. Because it is inefficient to hold a trial when the “outcome may be altered” by a higher court’s opinion, Rafeedie decided that the trial will not be held until 60 days after the 9th Circuit rules.

Sony lawyer David Steuber stressed that Rafeedie’s decision was not a routine order: “I think this is a significant step because it’s a recognition that the validity of MGM’s position is not clear cut and there is a legitimate dispute about controlling questions of law.” MGM, however, scoffed at the significance of the order. Spokesman Craig Parsons said, “This doesn’t change the merits of the case one iota. We are as confident about winning in January or February as we are about winning in December.”

Rafeedie granted MGM’s motion for a preliminary injunction on July 29, and Sony appealed a few days later. In an exten-sive opinion, Rafeedie concluded that the rights Sony purchased from Kevin McClory, who collaborated with Bond creator Ian Fleming, did not rise to the level under U.S. copyright law of making McClory the joint owner of the Bond character, as Sony has argued. Rafeedie’s preliminary conclusion was that Sony cannot create a Bond series that would compete with MGM’s 35-year-old franchise.

Because Rafeedie’s decision was so far-reaching on the underlying merits of the case, a reversal by the 9th Circuit could significantly alter the terrain. A decision from the 9th circuit most likely would come by the end of the year or early next year.

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