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Judge Denies Director’s Bid to Seize and Destroy ‘The Professor and the Madman’

A judge on Friday denied director Farhad Safinia’s request to seize and destroy a producer’s cut of “The Professor and the Madman,” the Mel Gibson film about the Oxford English Dictionary.

Safinia says he was thrown off the film after Voltage Pictures refused his request to shoot five additional days at Oxford University. He filed a lawsuit accusing Voltage of defamation and copyright infringement, and asked for a restraining order to block Voltage from shopping the film to distributors.

But in her ruling Friday, Judge Consuelo Marshall rejected the request, saying Safinia had not demonstrated a likelihood of prevailing on the merits of the dispute. Safinia claims that he owns the copyright to the September 2016 version of the screenplay, and that he never subsequently assigned the rights to Voltage.

Voltage counters that Safinia had already given up his copyright to earlier drafts of the film’s screenplay under a “work made for hire” agreement, and that the September 2016 draft was nothing more than a polish of the earlier script. Voltage also notes that Safinia did not own the rights to the book on which the screenplay was based, and therefore cannot claim an independent copyright.

Marshall also ruled that Safinia is unlikely to suffer irreparable harm if the restraining order is not granted.

“Plaintiff has not provided sufficient evidence that he will suffer harm to his reputation simply because he is identified as the screenwriter and director of the film in various promotional materials,” Marshall wrote. “Nor does Plaintiff provide any evidence that the value of his screenplay will diminish if Defendants are not enjoined immediately. Defendants have not finished editing the film and do not anticipate distribution before the end of 2017.”

Gibson filed suit against Voltage in July, alleging that the producer had violated its agreement by denying him final cut. Voltage argues that Gibson and Safinia walked away from the project after Voltage CEO Nicolas Chartier refused to shoot additional scenes at Oxford. Chartier says the film was already behind schedule and over budget, and the extra shooting days would have added $2.5 million to the cost of the $25 million film.

Chartier urged the judge not to issue a restraining order, saying that doing so would make it impossible to distribute the film and could cause the financiers to lose their $25 million investment.

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