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Warren Beatty wins ruling against Tribune on Dick Tracy rights

A judge rejects Tribune's contention that Beatty had missed a deadline to retain the TV and movie rights to the comic-strip detective.

March 25, 2011|By Phil Rosenthal

Warren Beatty has scored a legal victory in his fight with Tribune Co. over the television and movie rights to square-jawed comic-strip crime stopper Dick Tracy.

Both sides had requested summary judgments in the long-running dispute in U.S. District Court. Judge Dean D. Pregerson of the Central District of California on Thursday granted Beatty's motion and rejected Tribune Co.'s request. Tribune owns the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune and other media properties.

Beatty, who acquired rights to the character from Tribune Co.'s Tribune Media Services in 1985 and made the 1990 movie "Dick Tracy," starring himself and Madonna, filed suit in federal court in Los Angeles in 2008 after Tribune Media Services said those rights had reverted back to it.

"At the present time we are reviewing the judge's opinion and evaluating our options," a Tribune Co. spokesman said in response to the ruling.

Tribune Co. argued that Beatty was required to produce another Tracy television or movie project to retain the rights before a use-it-or-lose-it deadline that Tribune Media Services had established two years earlier. Beatty countered that after his request to extend the rights to 2013 was denied, he began work on a Tracy special before the deadline.

Cable's Turner Classic Movies subsequently ran the half-hour movie chat between film critic Leonard Maltin and Tracy (as played by Beatty) discussing various portrayals of the comic detective in July 2009. The special was followed by some of the early Tracy cinematic efforts from the 1930s and '40s.

Tribune "may be frustrated that [Beatty] has not used his rights to Dick Tracy for more profitable ends," Judge Pregerson wrote in his ruling, noting he saw nothing in the contract between the two requiring such a project to make money.

Bert Fields, Beatty's lawyer, told the Chicago Tribune in March 2009, "Obviously, Warren would have preferred to go ahead with [a new Tracy] picture, so he produced the special to extend the rights, and the contract very clearly says you can do that. He sold [the special], even though the contract doesn't require him to do that. The contract doesn't even require him to finish it. He just has to start it."

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