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Merchant Ivory Sues Janus Films Over Movie Distribution

Merchant Ivory Productions Ltd., the maker of films such as “A Room With a View,” accused movie distributor Janus Films LLC OF infringing copyrights by distributing films after their licensing deals expired.

Janus, which handles the so-called Criterion Collection, initially was granted rights to 26 Merchant Ivory films in 1999, according to a lawsuit filed today in federal court in Manhattan. The agreements for all of the films except “Howards End” expired by Dec. 31, and Merchant Ivory later learned Janus was still distributing them, according to the complaint.

“Plaintiffs therefore bring this action to protect their copyrights in and to the films being exploited by Janus without plaintiffs’ permission,” Merchant Ivory said in the complaint filed by attorneys Zeynel Karcioglu and Stephen Nakamura.

“Janus denies any unlawful distribution of any Merchant Ivory title,” Jeffrey Ullman, a lawyer for Janus, said in a phone interview. He declined to comment further, saying the company hadn’t been served with the suit.

The lawsuit followed Janus’s efforts to negotiate a new license agreement, which were complicated by an arbitration proceeding between London-based Merchant Ivory and an entity called ACKMA Recovery LLC and discussions over a proposed deal with HanWay Films, according to the complaint. Either deal required approval from ACKMA, the filing said.

Janus entered a side arrangement with HanWay, which had discussed a possible distribution agreement with Merchant Ivory, the complaint alleged.

The closely held company asked the court to stop Janus from reproducing the films or otherwise using the copyrighted materials and seeks damages including all profit related to the alleged infringement.

The case is Merchant Ivory Productions Ltd. v. Janus Films LLC, 1:12-cv-06325, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

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