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TWC loses its ‘Precious’ suit

Oral deal discarded by federal judge

Nothing is more precious in dealmaking than a signed contract, says a federal judge.

And a signed contract is just what Weinstein Co. doesn’t have in its claim of distribution rights to Lee Daniels’ “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire,” which Lionsgate is slated to release Nov. 6.

In February, two days after Lionsgate announced its purchase of the film, the Weinstein Co. filed a lawsuit against “Precious” producer Smokewood Prods., claiming that TWC had already made a deal for the title.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald for the Southern District of New York disagreed, dismissing one of four lawsuits the Weinstein Co. has filed in connection with the film.

In a memorandum to dismiss the Weinstein Co. suit, Smokewood attorney Steven Hayes pointed out that TWC did not have a signed contract for a “Precious” deal and, as such, could have no claim on the film. Furthermore, he pointed out that Weinstein used the same argument to wrest “Project Runway” from Bravo to Lifetime.

Judge Buchwald’s judgment agreed with his opinion, pointing out that under the Copyright Act, the transfer of distribution rights demands “a signed writing from the copyright owner or its agent.”

Buchwald wrote: “Notably, the complaint does not allege a written, legally binding agreement for the licensing and distribution rights to ‘Push.’ Rather, the complaint alleges that there were negotiations between Jan. 24, 2009, and Jan. 27, 2009, resulting in an agreement that was never finalized in writing.”

“Precious,” then titled “Push: Based on a Novel by Sapphire,” premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, where it was represented by John Sloss and Bart Walker at Cinetic Media. Weinstein Co. claims that the Cinetic reps made a deal for the film and then reneged when Lionsgate entered the picture.

At the time, Weinstein Co. attorney Bert Fields described the companies’ pact on the film as “a firm agreement…Lionsgate was well aware of the TWC contract but went forward anyway” (Daily Variety, Feb. 6).

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