How an Aspen movie theater could end up owning Ingmar Bergman filmsThu Jan 15, 2009 @ 01:41PM PST
By Eriq Gardner
Foreign companies often ignore adverse U.S. court judgments. But for Svensk Filmindustri, shrugging off nearly $10 million may cost the Swedish film studio the U.S. rights to the entire film catalog of legendary filmmaker Ingmar Bergman.
Owners of Aspen, Colorado-based movie theater Isis Theater have recently registered with the U.S. Copyright Office the rights to many films in Svensk's film library, including Lasse Hallstrom's "My Life as a Dog," Bo Widerberg's "Elvira Madigan" and the Bergman catalog. Here's the registration notice and a list of titles.
Isis made the move after a Colorado District Court ordered the rights transfer to make good on money owed by Svensk to Isis stemming from a loan guaranty made on the lease of its Aspen theater. In 1997, Isis, Svensk, and Resort Theaters of America partnered on a plan to develop upscale movie multiplexes at resorts. That failed when RTA declared bankruptcy three years later.
Isis then sued and in 2003, a Colorado District Court ordered Svensk to pay $5.9 million. The Court later added $850,000 in costs and fees and imposed a $2,500-a-day contempt of court penalty. Still, Svensk has refused to pay up. As Isis has pursued the money it started a website called Garnish Svensk that displays a running ticker on how much is owed.
Isis now reasons that having a claim to Bergman films might actually free them to wider distribution and a new audience. The company has already launched a new website, SwedishClassicFilms.com.
One thing to keep in mind is the precedent here.
Ignoring foreign judgments had been a commonplace part of international jurisprudence. (The head of media giant Bonnier Group last year proclaimed that "A court decision in Colorado means nothing in Sweden.") But film studios, with foreign IP assets, now seem to have more liability than the average corporation. After all, if it can happen in Colorado, it can happen anywhere.