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Court cleans up soap row

Decision allows e.tv to takeover 'Backstage' prod'n

JOHANNESBURG — A landmark court ruling has highlighted legal loopholes in contracts between broadcasters and producers in South Africa.

The Cape High Court decision has allowed terrestrial broadcaster e.tv to “hijack” the production of soap opera “Backstage” from the original creator Mfundi Vundla, his production company Morula Pictures and Endemol South Africa.

Vundla took e.tv to court in January for sacking Morula Pictures as producer of the show, but it lost the case.

E.tv took over production in March, dumped Endemol’s crew and signed new contracts directly with the “Backstage” actors and writers.

Vundla, Morula and Endemol launched a court application to restrain e.tv.

But the court has found that e.tv’s original contract with Morula gave the broadcaster the right to produce future episodes based on adaptations of the original.

It ruled that use of the name by e.tv was implied by the granting of these rights; neither, therefore, enjoyed an exclusive right to the name.

Independent Producers’ Organization chairman Marc Schwinge said producers would have to be more careful about their contracts with broadcasters.

But Schwinge said producers were in a difficult position. “Broadcasters negotiate from a position of strength and can determine terms of contracts with producers who, dependent on broadcasters for their livelihood, may find themselves out of work if they attempt to secure certain ownership and distribution rights.”

In the past, producers have relied on broadcasters and commissioning editors to abide by an unwritten code of “prevailing industry norms and practices.”

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