Legal battle over "Rear Window" resumes

Sun Oct 31, 2010 11:37pm EDT
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By Eriq Gardner

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - The legal fight over whether the 2007 film "Disturbia" is a rip-off of an Alfred Hitchcock classic is far from being in the, um, rear window.

Despite nearly three decades of litigation over rights to the famous "Rear Window" story, and a decision last month that seemed to put an end to the matter, Universal Pictures is once against being sued.

The Sheldon Abend Revocable Trust filed a new lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court on Thursday claiming that Universal and its affiliates breached a settlement agreement by distributing and advertising "Disturbia," which stars Shia LaBeouf as a teenager under home confinement who spies on his neighbors and believes one to be a killer.

The complaint is fascinating but requires some background first.

Sheldon Abend was an esteemed literary agent who represented the estates of authors including George Bernard Shaw, Tennessee Williams, David O. Selznick and Cornell Woolrich, author of a short story that served as the basis for the 1954 classic Hitchcock film, "Rear Window."

In the 1980s, after Hitchcock's original was shown on television, Abend took on MCA, Hitchcock and star Jimmy Stewart in court, claiming that the defendants not only needed rights from Paramount to show the film, but also had to secure rights to the underlying story that served as the basis for the film. The case culminated in a landmark 1990 Supreme Court decision that established the so-called "Abend Rule," which deals with the continued distribution of a derivative work during the copyright renewal period of the underlying work.

The big case also produced licensing and settlement agreements in 1991 and 1992 between the parties. The pact gave MCA, a predecessor to Universal, the right to distribute the classic film and have limited rights to exploit the film in advertising and theme park endeavors, in return for a percentage of gross revenue.

It's these settlement agreements that the Sheldon Abend Revocable Trust now claims have been breached.   Continued...