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Daily Journal Extra - Dec 27, 2004
Heirs Tangle Over Copyright for 'Pink Panther' Story
By Draeger Martinez
        While MGM Studios has high hopes for its new "Pink Panther" movie next summer, several heirs of the Panther's co-creator have demanded piles of greenbacks in a lawsuit they filed in federal court.

        Four stepchildren of Maurice Richlin, who co-created the Pink Panther story and characters with filmmaker Blake Edwards, sued MGM and Geoffrey Productions - Edwards' film company - seeking accounting and declaratory relief.

        E. Randol Schoenberg, the plaintiffs' attorney, says the case comes down to a little-known wrinkle of copyright law.

        "Under the laws in place when Richlin and Edwards wrote their work, the initial term of copyright was 28 years. Then the authors could renew it once for another 28 years," says Schoenberg, name partner in Los Angeles' Burris & Schoenberg.

        Schoenberg says that current copyright law has no renewal term, just a single copyright term that can be extended repeatedly. If current law were in place when Richlin assigned his rights to the story in 1962, there would be no renewal rights at stake and thus no lawsuit.

        Richlin died in November 1990, just a few months before the renewal term was to start, Schoenberg says. MGM renewed the Pink Panther copyright because of Edwards' share of the story; the Richlin family did not realize it held the renewal rights to the other half until recently and never signed any renewal deal, Schoenberg adds.

        Edwards' representative at Hansom & Schwam Public Relations in Beverly Hills did not return calls seeking comment.

        "If Richlin had lived into the renewal term, there would be no issue because the deal he made covered both the first term and the renewal term," Schoenberg says. "But because he died, that part of the deal was superceded by copyright law, which specifies the heirs get the renewal rights."

        MGM's defense attorney, Jacques Rimokh of the New York office of Loeb & Loeb, says studio policy precludes him from commenting on pending litigation. The studio has not formally responded to the lawsuit and faces a Jan. 4 deadline to do so. MGM senior spokesman David Bloom could not be reached for comment. Richlin v. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures, CV04-9162 (C.D. Cal, filed Nov. 5, 2004).

        Schoenberg says that. while MGM has been within its rights to continue making Pink Panther movies, thanks to its relationship with Edwards, Richlin's estate has been shortchanged half of the Pink Panther royalties since 1991.

        "MGM is filming a brand-new Pink Panther movie due out next [year] with Steve Martin as Inspector Clouseau, so that became the catalyst for filing this lawsuit now," Schoenberg says.

        According to the Internet Movie Database, there have been 15 Pink Panther movies and TV projects since the series began in 1963, not counting the new movie expected to premiLre in September 2005. That film, described as a prequel to the original Peter Sellers movie, also stars Kevin Kline, Beyonce Knowles and Jean Reno.

        Schoenberg says the family's share of Pink Panther royalties has not been calculated and will vary depending on how well the new movie performs. But he figures the share easily could reach millions, if not tens of millions, of dollars.