McElroy files lawsuit against Southern Star

Petition asks for $6.7 mil

SYDNEY — In what could shape up to be the mother of all legal battles in Australia’s increasingly litigious TV industry, influential producer Hal McElroy on Wednesday filed suit against major distributor and production house Southern Star, seeking nearly A$11 million ($6.7 million).

McElroy, whose 18-year association with Southern Star ended acrimoniously just months after its $48 million September 1996 IPO, was the driving force behind Star’s popular “Blue Heelers” and “Water Rats” series, which have sold to about 180 outlets worldwide.

In what’s understood to be the culmination of years of tension, McElroy’s Supreme Court suit claims his company, Eden Prods., is owed royalties, fees and profits totaling $6.5 million. For its part, Star has filed a separate District Court lawsuit against McElroy, claiming it is owed money — about $140,000 — by McElroy and saying “there is no foundation to Eden’s claim.”

Shares in Southern Star, which owns U.K. groups Circle and Primetime, have been hard hit by sagging European demand for independent programming and poor local market conditions.

In the meantime, in one of the more amusing lawsuits in memory, Kerry Packer’s Nine Network filed a Federal Court lawsuit against Network Ten, claiming it is illegally using footage of Nine programs for its comedy “The Panel.”

“The Panel” is a satirical news chat show, which often uses clips of other webs’ shows to lampoon them. Nine accuses Ten of illegally pilfering footage from such Nine programs as “The Today Show,” “A Current Affair,” “Australia’s Most Wanted,” “Wide World of Sports” and “Days of Our Lives,” although observers suggest the issue is more Nine taking offense at “The Panel’s” humor.

Oz’s copyright rules allow webs to use snippets from other nets’ shows for “fair dealing” in news stories, but Nine lawyer Mark O’Brien told reporters, ” ‘The Panel’ is an entertainment program, not a news program. What we say is no, you are taking too much and going too far.”

” ‘The Panel’ is a news, current affairs and criticism program and the copyright act sensibly provides a defense for that sort of activity,” Ten lawyer Robert Todd said outside court.

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