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Court Rejects Viacom's Claim to TV Rights for Spider-Man

Movies: Ruling clears way for Columbia to begin work on a film starring the comic book hero.

April 20, 1999|MICHAEL A. HILTZIK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Spider-Man cliffhanger ratcheted one step closer to a conclusion Monday as a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge threw out Viacom Inc.'s claim to television broadcast rights to a film featuring the comic book superhero.

A spokesman for Paramount Television, Viacom's TV distribution arm, said Monday that the studio will appeal the ruling by Judge Aurelio Munoz, which may also leave Viacom on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars in court costs.

Viacom's was the last claim standing from a marathon litigation battle that had tied up the film rights to Spider-Man for nearly eight years. That battle over which studio owned the rights to make the film were settled last month in favor of Sony Corp.'s Columbia Pictures unit, which also won rights to make sequels and a live-action television series.

Viacom contended that its rights dated to a deal it struck with an independent studio that owned the Spider-Man film rights but went out of business without putting the film into production. Munoz ruled, among other things, that those rights had expired years ago.

"This is the last piece of the puzzle," said Columbia's lawyer, Robert M. Schwartz of O'Melveny & Myers.

Columbia, which believes the film could be a big-budget blockbuster and the anchor of a long-running franchise, is moving swiftly to place the property into production. The studio has contracted with David Koepp, the screenwriter for "Jurassic Park" and "The Lost World," to write the script, although it has not yet assigned the project to a producer or director.

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