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A Piggybacking Pickle

28 Nov, 2007 By: Chris Tribbey

The Golden Compass

The Da Vinci Code, The Passion of the Christ, Batman Begins: All were box office hits that DVD suppliers piggybacked on. No matter how obscure or loosely connected a property is, if it can be tied to a major theatrical release, independents have, and probably will, capitalize.

For New Line Cinema, however, one DVD company has gone too far this time.

The New York-based studio filed suit against Koch Entertainment LP Nov. 15 in U.S. District Court in New York, claiming copyright infringement, unfair competition, and false advertising, regarding Koch Vision's Nov. 20 release of Beyond The Golden Compass: The Magic of Philip Pullman. New Line releases The Golden Compass film in theaters Dec. 7.

Requests for comment to both New Line and Koch were not returned in time for publication.

New Line says it has spent tens of millions of dollars on the marketing and promotion for The Golden Compass. And with stars such as Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Sam Elliot, Eva Green and Ian McKellen, New Line says it has invested more in the production of this film than any other in its 40-year history, including any of “The Lord of the Rings” films. So when the studio saw the marketing materials for Koch's DVD, including the cover and similar font usage to the theatrical film's materials, it felt compelled to take the issue to court, according to the lawsuit.

“In a cynical and transparent effort to unfairly compete with and capitalize on the massive publicity and promotional effort attendant to the upcoming release of [The Golden Compass], and in complete disregard of [New Line's] exclusive rights to underlying materials, [Koch has] produced and are marketing and distributing the infringing video,” the lawsuit reads. New Line is claiming damaging in excess of $10 million.

The company had sought to stop Koch from distributing the film. However after a hearing Nov. 19, no ruling had been handed down.

David Imhoff, EVP of worldwide licensing and merchandising for New Line, wrote in a letter included with the lawsuit: “I was profoundly disturbed to see the ‘sell sheet' and cover art for the Koch Entertainment DVD ... It is immediately apparent that the sell sheet and cover art are carefully calculated to imitate the look of our authorized merchandise so as to confuse the public.” He goes on to point out similarities between the font styles, the inclusion of both polar bears and a golden compass, color schemes, and other similarities between the two products' marketing materials.

“It is difficult to imagine packaging that could be more deliberately misleading,” Imhoff wrote.

New Line also claims Koch's DVD violates the studio's exclusive rights to “create any film or television works” based on the English novels by Pullman. However, Koch describes Beyond The Golden Compass: The Magic of Philip Pullman as a discussion of Pullman's books, not the New Line film, and as more similar to a documentary than a movie.

“Utilizing the latest CG animation and rare archival footage, Beyond The Golden Compass: The Magic of Philip Pullman also includes revealing interviews with historians and experts as well as an exclusive talk with the author himself,” Koch's description reads.

Yet some of the reenactments included in the Koch video are damaging to New Line's film, New Line Cinema marketing head Christopher Carlisle wrote in the lawsuit. “If the public were to be confused by these low quality filmed ‘reenactments,' and assume they are clips from our major motion picture, I would expect this to damage the goodwill for our film.”

Koch has made no secret of the piggybacking strategy: Koch advertises on its Web site that the DVD “has been released to coincide with the big-budget film adaptation of Pullman's book.” And Bill Schwartz of Schwartz & Company, Inc. (the company that produced the Koch film and is also named in the lawsuit) wrote in an email included in court documents: “All artwork from Koch is available to ride the ‘coat-tails' of New Line's $180,000,000 [film].”

Koch insists its video is a non-fiction program, and includes the disclaimer on the DVD: “This production was not authorized, prepared, approved, licensed or endorsed by Philip Pullman, New Line Cinema, or any other individual or entity associated with the His Dark Materials books or any movies based on those books.”

Pullman's trilogy of fantasy books, first released in the United Kingdom beginning in 1995, has sold 14 million copies worldwide.

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