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California Lawyer, June 1998, p. 20.

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Bond is Big Business

Bond is big media. He's in books, comics, games and advertisements. But by far, he's biggest on the silver screen. Over 35 years ago, Ian Fleming granted exclusive movie rights for the James Bond character to Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer. Since that time, MGM has enjoyed a virtual monopoly on James Bond.

And it's been a very nice monopoly. MGM has made 18 Bond films, and number 19 is currently in production with a scheduled release date of November 19, 1999.

Never Say Never

James Bond is MGM's single largest asset. MGM never relied too heavily on the Fleming books for Bond movies, but they did use the titles until they ran out. View to a Kill was the first title they had to make up by themselves.

James Bond
The Remake
In the fall of 1997, Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc. announced that it was going to produce its own series of James Bond movies. Sony was going to base the films on material they claimed to have licensed from a former business associate of Ian Fleming.

Kevin McClory was a business partner of Ian Fleming, and apparently had collaborated with Fleming on a number of ventures. One of these ventures was the screenplay for Thunderball.

In the case of Thunderball, McClory and Fleming had an agreement which enabled McClory to subsequently use the material for a remake. McClory sold these rights to Warner Bros. The result was the 1983 production Never Say Never Again. The film was notable for the return of Sean Connery as James Bond.

Stolen Thunder

McClory alleges that he co-authored a substantial amount of material with Fleming to which McClory owns the rights. Although MGM acknowledge McClory had those rights, they contend that he did not have any more.

They further characterize McClory as - say he's been trying to peddle these faux Bond rights in Hollywood for 30 years, and nobody has bought them until Sony fell for it.

Sony filed a countersuit against MGM in February of 1998. The countersuit alleges a multitude of claims, including copyright infringement, breach of contract, and unfair competition.

MGM went public in the fall of 1997. Sony announced their intention to assimilate Bond on the eve of the IPO in a typical sharky corporate maneuver to weaken MGM's position. It was speculated that if Sony could weaken MGM, then maybe they would be more inclined to settle with Sony.