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Viacom courts Spider-Man TV

Trial is last piece of long saga

The loose end in the long-running Spider-Man litigation took centerstage Wednesday as Viacom Intl. Inc. pressed its claim that it owns television rights to any Spider-Man film.

The non-jury trial in L.A. Superior Court before Judge Aurelio Munoz is expected to last five or six days. The Viacom claim is the last piece of the Spider-Man litigation puzzle, which has involved Marvel Enterprises, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and a host of now-defunct independents.

Last month, Marvel, Sony and MGM settled their claims just a day before trial was to start. At that time Sony and Marvel announced that they would jointly launch a Spider-Man film franchise and a joint venture to handle merchandising.

Under the agreement, Sony licensed film and television rights from Marvel for $10 million and a big-budget tentpole feature film is anticipated. MGM’s claim to film rights was settled, reportedly for under $2 million. The Sony announcement was something of a surprise because in the litigation it was only claiming video distribution rights.

As for the current trial, Viacom claims that under its original agreement with the now-defunct 21st Century Film Corp. it gained perpetual television rights. But Marvel attorney Larry Feldman said the 21st Century rights have long since reverted to Marvel. Furthermore, Feldman said, Viacom elected to delete the Spider-Man film from its agreement with 21st Century and recovered payments it had made for the film.

Marvel is also represented by Carole Handler and Julian Brew of Kaye, Scholer, Fierman, Hays & Handler.

Viacom representatives could not be reached for comment.

Sony is, of course, siding with Marvel in the litigation. They maintain that the multimillion-dollar deal for the Spider-Man rights, includes the lucrative television distribution rights.

Asked Sony attorney Robert Schwartz, “Where do these guys come from telling us they have TV distribution rights in our movie? They have no contract with us. They have no contract with Marvel, and we’ve assumed no obligations of anyone they’ve ever done business with.”

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