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Deal Cements MGM's Bond to 007 Franchise

Movies: Studio will pay Sony $5 million as pending lawsuits over the valuable character are settled.

March 30, 1999|JAMES BATES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. on Monday agreed to pay $5 million for a license to kill any attempt by Sony Pictures Entertainment to make a James Bond movie.

The amount is the net sum MGM will pay to Sony to cement its rights to one of Hollywood's most valuable film franchises, as well as to obtain from Sony the rights to the classic Bond story "Casino Royale," the only Bond film rights MGM didn't already own.

The deal resolves pending lawsuits in which MGM and Danjaq, the production company involved in making the Bond films, sued Sony after the studio announced in October 1997 that it planned to make its own Bond films.

Insurance companies for Sony will pay MGM $5 million to resolve the lawsuit challenging its rights to make and distribute a Bond film domestically. MGM in turn will pay Sony $10 million, some of it also covered by insurance, to keep the company from making any Bond films internationally and get the rights to "Casino Royale."

Unlike the rest of the Bond films, 1967's "Casino Royale" was not an action-packed adventure but rather a poorly received spoof featuring David Niven, Woody Allen and Peter Sellers. It was released by Columbia Pictures, now owned by Sony. Buying the rights means that MGM can potentially remake the picture.

Sony touched off the furor with MGM in 1997 when it announced it was striking a deal with Kevin McClory, who once collaborated on a screenplay with the late Bond author Ian Fleming that Fleming eventually turned into the novel "Thunderball."

MGM and Danjaq cried foul, suing Sony over the rights and claiming McClory had no legal standing with the James Bond character. Making the lawsuit even more bitter was the fact that Sony chief John Calley previously headed MGM's United Artists division, where he oversaw the successful rebirth of the Bond franchise with actor Pierce Brosnan in 1995's "GoldenEye." MGM at one point alleged that Sony had misappropriated trade secrets stemming from Calley's tenure at the company.

After suing, MGM further strengthened its claim to the Bond rights by renewing a deal for all Bond novels with Fleming's estate. It also acquired the rights to a "Thunderball" remake distributed by Warner Bros. in 1983 called "Never Say Never Again."

McClory, who claims he has rights and that his copyright has been infringed, was not a party to the settlement. His plans are unclear, lawyers for both sides said.

David Steuber, a lawyer representing Sony, said that a ruling earlier this month by U.S. District Judge Edward Rafeedie clearing Calley of disclosing secret information about the Bond franchise was important in paving the way for a settlement.

In a statement, MGM Chairman Frank G. Mancuso said: "The end of this case reaffirms that James Bond resides at one address--that of MGM and Danjaq, his constant home for the last 37 years."

The James Bond franchise is considered one of the film industry's crown jewels and is the single most valuable asset held by MGM, which is owned by billionaire Kirk Kerkorian. MGM will release, through United Artists, the next Bond installment in November, "The World Is Not Enough," starring Brosnan and Oscar winner Judi Dench.

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