And the Oscar Goes to...the Academy

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And the Oscar Goes to...the Academy

Wed Dec 17, 2008 @ 02:13AM PST

By Matthew Belloni

OscarNo one ever accused the motion picture academy of neglecting its greatest asset: those little gold men it hands out each year. Saying that AMPAS and its lead outside lawyer David Quinto are aggressive in protecting Oscar is like saying the guy who threw the shoe at President Bush got some press attention. Tales around the legal community abound of the Academy's devotion at all costs to preventing unauthorized use of the statute or any form of the Oscar trademark. In fact, we wouldn't be surprised if we got a nasty letter based on the image we pasted from Google into this post.

Well, now AMPAS and Quinto have a nice little victory to add to their collection, with an LA jury finding Monday that a Rancho Mirage woman and her family can't auction off for charity the 1930 Oscar won by Mary Pickford. There's a whole backstory to this case, and it gets complicated, but it basically hinges on whether the Academy's 1951 rule giving it a right of first refusal to buy Oscars for $10 (later lowered to $1) applies to Pickford's Oscar based on an agreement she either signed or didn't sign when she received an honorary Oscar in 1976.

The jury said the 1976 agreement bars an auction. But regardless of the ultimate outcome--and the estate's lawyer, Mark Passin (who, for the record, we're friends with and used to practice law with), says the case isn't over yet--the scuffle shows just how far the Academy will go to stick to its principle that the Oscar is not to be messed with. The Pickford estate, after all, wants the proceeds of the auction to go directly to charity. And, slippery slopes aside, most Academy members would probably bristle if they knew what the organization was spending to prevent that from happening.

Or maybe not. After all, Academy members are smart and successful. They know what their greatest asset is.          

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The Hollywood Reporter
The Hollywood Reporter, Esq. blog focuses on how the entertainment and media industries are impacted and influenced by the law. It is edited by Matthew Belloni with contributions from veteran legal reporter Eriq Gardner and others. Before joining The Hollywood Reporter, Belloni was a lawyer at an entertainment litigation firm in Los Angeles. He writes a column for THR devoted to entertainment law. Gardner is a New York-based writer and legal journalist. Send tips or comments to

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