A jury has ruled in favor of the organization that hands out the Academy Awards in a dispute over whether statuettes won by one of its founding members can be sold.
The panel in Los Angeles sided with the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences on Monday, saying three women who own Oscars won by silent film star Mary Pickford are bound to an agreement barring their sale.
The ruling paves the way for a judge to take the verdict a step further during a hearing next week and block the sale of the statuettes, which is what the academy wants.
Pickford was part of early Hollywood’s royalty. Along with other actors, she helped found United Artists and was one of the academy’s 36 original members.
To try to prevent the sale of Pickford’s awards, the academy last year sued the heirs of Beverly Rogers, who married Pickford’s third husband, Buddy Rogers, after the silent film star’s death in 1979.
Her estate included three Oscar statuettes – two given to Pickford and an honorary award given to Buddy Rogers.
Attorneys for Beverly Rogers’ heirs said after the verdict that they were “extremely disappointed” but hope the judge will ignore the verdict and allow the sale of one of the awards.
“We’re obviously delighted with the jury’s verdict,” said David Quinto, an attorney representing the academy.
Rogers’ heirs said they hoped to sell Pickford’s award for the 1929 film “Coquette” and donate the money to charity, as spelled out in Beverly Rogers’ will.
“All they ever wanted to do was donate money to charity pursuant to their aunt’s wishes and they can’t believe the academy put them through all this,” said Mark D. Passin, the lead lawyer for Rogers’ heirs.
The rule against selling Oscars was instituted in the 1950s and is meant to preserve the awards’ unique value, academy attorneys said during the trial.
According to the agreement, the academy has the right to buy back Oscars for up to $10 before any statuette can be sold.
Beverly Rogers’ heirs challenged whether they were bound to the agreement since they weren’t Pickford’s or Buddy Rogers’ direct heirs. They also disputed that Pickford signed the agreement after receiving an honorary award in 1976.
The academy is awaiting the outcome of next week’s hearing before declaring victory, but Quinto said Monday’s verdict upheld the organization’s contract with Oscar winners.
“The heirs raised every conceivable legal challenge and so far at least, the academy has overcome all of them,” Quinto said.