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Cantinflas Son Sues Columbia

He claims the studio has violated his Mexican copyrights and meddled with distribution.

February 14, 2003|Meg James | Times Staff Writer

The son of the late Mexican film legend Cantinflas has sued Columbia Pictures, claiming the studio has deprived him of as much as $10 million by undercutting his rights to exploit the lucrative movies in Mexico.

Mario Moreno Ivanova's lawsuit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, reopens a rancorous decade-old dispute between Moreno and Columbia Pictures, a unit of Sony Corp.

Moreno claims the Culver City studio has violated his Mexican copyrights and engaged in unfair competition by interfering with his distribution deals in Mexico.

Eight months ago, Columbia declared victory when a federal judge in Los Angeles awarded the studio rights to 34 disputed films.

But Moreno claims the U.S. judgment does not apply in Mexico. He had entered into a $6-million agreement with Grupo Televisa in 1998 to broadcast the films, and a separate $1.5-million deal two years ago with an unidentified distributor for seven of the pictures.

The lawsuit claims Columbia is "financially starving the Cantinflas estate" by threatening Televisa, which has refused to make payments under the 1998 deal.

Moreno's attorney, Timothy Riley of Pasadena, said Columbia has overstepped its legal authority by meddling in Mexico.

Sony executives declined to comment.

Cantinflas was born Mario Moreno Reyes and gained fame in the U.S. by co-starring with David Niven in the 1956 Oscar-winning film "Around the World in 80 Days."

But his critically acclaimed and most profitable films were made in Mexico during the 1940s and 1950s. Cantinflas played a ragamuffin character who delighted the masses by poking fun at the rich and powerful of Mexico.

Cantinflas' films -- which span the comic's career of more than 40 years -- have become more valuable with time.

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