This article was corrected on June 4, 2000. James Whittingham was the orginal writer for the film, ‘Thunderball’.
A federal judge has dismissed Kevin McClory’s claim to a share of profits from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s $1 billion James Bond franchise, apparently bringing an end to some 40 years of litigation over ownership of the sophisticated spy character.
McClory was a no-show — U.S. visa problems kept him on the Isle of Man — but U.S. District Court Judge Edward Rafeedie ruled Friday that McClory had delayed too long in bringing his suit alleging he is the co-creator with Ian Fleming of the cinematic Bond.
Rafeedie then dismissed the case on the grounds that it had not been brought in a timely manner without proceeding to a jury trial on McClory’s copyright claims.
MGM attorney Pierce O’Donnell said the ruling was “a total vindication” for the studio.
“Today’s ruling closes the book on the dispute surrounding the James Bond films,” MGM said in a statement. “Sony’s settlement agreement last year, and the judge’s decision today … reaffirm, once and for all, our position that MGM and Danjaq (the Bond production company) … are the true home of the James Bond movies.”
In 1997, Sony announced it had purchased McClory’s Bond rights and would use them as the basis for a competing Bond franchise. MGM promptly sued, and that phase of the case ended last March with a settlement that put Sony out of the Bond business. But McClory vowed to press on, and the current trial was the tail end of MGM’s suit against Sony.
Until recently, MGM had been willing to settle the suit for an undisclosed sum, however, McClory rejected the settlement offers.
McClory’s attorneys declined to comment.
Briefly outlining the 40-year history of Bond litigation, Rafeedie pointed out that there have been at least three major lawsuits involving McClory and the Bond rights, but that it was not until 1997 that McClory alleged he was the co-owner of the Bond character.
Rafeedie found last week that McClory had delayed at least 36 years in bringing his claim of Bond ownership, despite numerous opportunities to do so.
Hard to find witnesses
Rafeedie also found that MGM and the other defendants had been prejudiced by the delay because virtually all the witnesses who could potentially help untangle McClory’s web of allegations and intrigue are long dead.
The list included Fleming himself; Richard Maibaum, the original Bond scriptwriter; and producers Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman.
Rafeedie also noted the severe economic prejudice to MGM and the producer if McClory were now allowed to claim profits. He also found that there was no willful copyright infringement.
Is this really the end of the James Bond sideshow?
Although Rafeedie’s ruling seems conclusive, as the expression goes, “Never Say Never Again.”