NEW YORK CITY—Michael Lucas’ multi-award-winning movie, Michael Lucas' La Dolce Vita, has been vindicated by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, which ruled for Lucas in a summary judgment motion that the two-part saga does not violate a mainstream company's claimed copyright for Federico Fellini's 1960 masterpiece La Dolce Vita ("The Sweet Life").
U.S. District Judge John G. Koeltl ruled that the plaintiff, International Media Films, Inc. (IMF), which had sued Lucas and his company, Lucas Entertainment, for copyright and trademark violations, had failed to prove that it had legal rights to the original La Dolce Vita's content, and indeed had agreed that the movie was in the public domain in the U.S. prior to January 1, 1996.
According to Judge Koeltl's ruling, the chain of ownership of La Dolce Vita, which began with the film's original producer, Riama Film S.P.A., could not be verified past an alleged 1980 agreement which plaintiff claims transferred rights to the film from Cinemat S.A. to Hor A.G., both European companies.
"Dr. Bernd Hammermann, Head of the Land Registry and Public Register Office of Liechtenstein, examined the certified copy of the Cinemat-Hor agreement and has contacted the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Liechtenstein because Dr. Hammermann doubts the authenticity of the certified copy," Judge Koeltl wrote. "According to Dr. Hammermann, a certified copy of the document bearing the Public Register’s stamp would verify that an official from the Public Register compared the stamped copy to the original on file with the Public Register. Dr. Hammermann doubts the authenticity of the certified copy because it uses the abbreviation 'Dec. 1980' for December rather than the German 'Dez.' that typically would be used in Liechtenstein, because the fee quoted is higher than the fee charged by the Public Register of Liechtenstein in December 1980, and because the signature from the Public Register is of an employee who was hired by the Public Register after December 1980."
The court also looked favorably upon challenges of several other IMF's claims to ownership of the Fellini film, including all of the so-called "legal transfers" of the film from Hor to other entities, and finally to IMF on Sept. 20, 2001, concluding, "IMF has produced no evidence from any person with personal knowledge of the transfers in its purported chain of title except for the final link of the transfer from Cinestampa to IMF."
Much of the rest of the 26-page decision traces other alleged transfers of ownership of La Dolce Vita, including the defendant's claim that Paramount Pictures Corp., which has taken no interest in the Lucas Entertainment release, had bought rights to the film from Republic Entertainment and currently owns the U.S. rights to the Fellini movie.
"The defendants present evidence that the chain of title to the Fellini film runs from Riama to Paramount through Astor Pictures and Republic, among others," Judge Koeltl wrote. "The defendants do not have to prove that Paramount is in fact the owner of the copyright to prevail on this motion. However, the defendants' evidence of an alternative chain of title does lend credence to their argument that the plaintiff cannot prove it properly holds the copyright in the Fellini film. The film was released in the United States in 1961 and there was extensive media coverage of the opening. This evidence lends credence to the defendants’ argument that Cinemat could not have conveyed its interest to Hor in 1980 when the film had opened so publicly in the United States through a chain of title that is inconsistent with Cinemat continuing to hold the copyright. Moreover, Republic registered a restored copyright in the film in 1998. IMF received notice of the Republic registration when IMF filed its registration in December 2002. All of this evidence lends support to the defendants’ argument that IMF does not hold the copyright to the Fellini film."
Since the plaintiff, in order to sustain its case, would have had to prove an unbroken chain of ownership of the film ending with IMF, and since facts produced by the defense and others cast insurmountable doubts about that chain of ownership, the court granted summary judgment to Lucas Entertainment, thereby freeing Michael Lucas' La Dolce Vita from any taint of copyright or trademark violation of an IMF property.
"I'm proud that my company won a case of such magnitude," said Lucas Entertainment President/CEO Michael Lucas in a press release. "We believed strongly that we hadn't done anything wrong even before we learned, through the meticulous, extensive and expensive fieldwork of our lawyers, that IMF doesn't even own the movie it went to court over. Of course I can only guess at my opponents' motivations, but if they thought that they could get a quick payday by walking all over a porn company, they were sorely mistaken. I am very proud that my company had the professionalism, the quality legal advice and the financial resources to stand up to this bullying."
Lucas' movie, which took home 14 trophies (including Best Picture) from the 2007 GayVN Awards, continues to be available on DVD from Lucas Entertainment, and can be streamed on LucasEntertainment.com.