Deal Ends 007 Copyright Fight that Outlasted Cold War

, The Litigation Daily


After raging for more than half a century, a copyright battle over the rights to the iconic spy James Bond finally came to an end last week. The feuding parties reached a settlement in which Danjaq LLC, the producer of the Bond movies, and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, the longtime distributor of the films, acquired all of the rights to 007 from the estate of writer and Bond film co-creator Kevin McClory.

William Kane and Adam Skilken, partners at Baker & Hostetler, represented McClory's estate in the deal. MGM general counsel Scott Packman represented the studio, while Danjaq had Kevin Marks of Gang, Tyre, Ramer & Brown. Specific terms of the settlement were not disclosed, but the companies said the agreement brought the long running copyright saga to an "amicable conclusion."

"The 50-year intellectual property row involving James Bond was settled because of a great deal of hard work by the attorneys for the estate of Kevin McClory, MGM, and Danjaq and will benefit James Bond film fans throughout the world," said Baker & Hostetler's Kane. 

The dispute, considered one of the longest in entertainment industry history, dates back to 1959, when McClory shared an idea for a Bond film with Ian Fleming, 007's original author and creator. The idea resulted in the novel "Thunderball," but McClory was not given credit. He sued, claiming co-authorship and the creation of characters and elements.

The two finally reached a settlement in 1963, paving the way for the release of the highly successful "Thunderball" movie in 1965. Disagreements continued over the interpretation of the intellectual property rights granted to McClory in the settlement, however, resulting in decades of additional Bond litigation.

More than ten years after that settlement, Danjaq subsidiary Eon, the production company for most of the Bond movies, sought to enjoin McClory from making more 007 films. But a 1983 court decision in London held that McClory owned elements of the James Bond franchise and was entitled to produce James Bond films. The Dublin-born McClory was therefore able to make "Never Say Never Again" -- a film that again starred Sean Connery and was released just months before "Octopussy," which starred Roger Moore and was produced by Eon.

In 1997, McClory sold his Bond rights to Sony, but Danjaq and MGM sued in the Central District of California, naming McClory as a co-defendant. Sony settled, but McClory, who had claimed royalties, remained a party in the suit. In a 2001 decision peppered enthusiastically with Bond references like "martinis (shaken, not stirred)," the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit rejected McClory's claims to royalties from 007 movies, ruling that his claims were barred under the doctrine of laches. In other words, he had waited too long to make his case.

That's where the litigation formally ended, and McClory died in Dublin in 2006 at the age of 80. Lawyers involved in the case refused to comment on the timing of Friday's settlement announcement. According to The Associated Press, the deal may portend the cinematic return of the Bond villain Blofeld and his terrorist organization, SPECTRE, which McClory claimed as his creations.

Similar issues have recently surfaced in an unrelated copyright litigation that the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear this term. In that case, the court will address whether the estate of the author of the book and screenplay for "Raging Bull" waited too long to sue over the renewal of copyright.

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