Roscoe P. Coltrane Claims Warner Bros. Stiffed Him On Millions In Merch

from the but-he's-in-hot-pursuit dept

There have been a number of lawsuits filed recently by former TV show stars claiming that the studios are cheating them out of downstream revenue as promised by their contracts. Perhaps the most high profile one involved members from the cast of Happy Days suing for not getting a cut of home video and merch sales. In that case, it appears CBS tried to buy off the actors with a few thousand dollars, rather than the millions they claim they’re owed. In another such lawsuit, James Best, the actor behind the famed Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane on The Dukes of Hazzard, is similarly claiming that Warner Bros. is stiffing him for millions on merchandise:

Best says his original contract with Warners entitled him to 5% of merchandising revenue from products that featured his identity, or 2.5% of total revenue for merchandise when other cast members were incorporated. The agreement purportedly covers not only the initial run on television, but also is said to give him “financial participation in spinoffs.”

Best claims he’s been asking Warner for an accounting of merch sales for 22 years, and finally got it in 2009. However, he notes that the numbers provided to him do not match, at all, with the numbers that Warner Bros. has bragged about publicly concerning merch sales. With all of these disputes, it’s not entirely clear who’s really right, though it does sound like contracts weren’t always clearly written and, even worse, the studios have been dreadful at actually properly accounting for things.

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Companies: warner bros.

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Comments on “Roscoe P. Coltrane Claims Warner Bros. Stiffed Him On Millions In Merch”

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That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Can we really blame the studios?

On paper they are used to showing a film that earned 200 million at the box office lost 640 million after everyone got their cut.

The mistake was giving out a press release touting how much they earned, before they applied the accounting methods to show that they lost $250 for every trinket sold.

Spaceboy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

No, their mistake was using shady accounting practices and an abundance of weasley contract clauses.

The studios should be able to provide a clear and concise accounting of how much money a given franchise has made and who has made what.

James Best may or may not be owed millions, but he, along with anyone else that signed a studio contract is owed an accurate accounting of whatever they were involved in.

Just John (profile) says:

Who is copyright helping?

So, based on this, it appears we have more direct evidence that the sales of copyrighted materials by the industry is not actually helping the artists.

I guess this helps highlight a common theme found here on techdirt: Copyright doesn’t protect the artists and increase their revenue, copyright helps the companies holding the copyright to make more money, then stiff the artists who made that money possible.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Who is copyright helping?

The nature of copyright is such that it will only ever help private actors who have the means to defend it in civil court. So it’s never going to be a very effective tool for an individual creator, contrary to the popular claims made, and it will always be a disproportionately strong tool for entities with significant means. It’s unclear if this belies a fundamental deficiency in copyright law or civil courts in general, I’d say some of both.

Spaceboy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

He isn’t asking for more money than was promised. He already got paid for his work on Dukes. What he is asking for is the money he is due for merchandise sales. The studio took 22 years to give him a statement and the numbers don’t add up.

If you had a contract that stipulated that you got 2.5% of merchandise sales and you saw your face plastered all over lunch boxes, toys, games, DVD’s and other merchandise wouldn’t you want an accurate accounting of that too?

Also, head over to his website, he has found a way to make money off his fame and he isn’t starving. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve an accurate statement form the studios.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“Why should Roscoe get paid for work he did decades ago?”
Because he signed a contract with his employer to that effect.

“I don’t get paid today for work I did that long ago, what makes him special?”
He has a contract that says he’s due money. If you don’t get paid decades after the fact that’s really your decision, many employers have some form of retirement plan built into the employment contracts. It’s really not that unusual to defer some payments into the future for when you know you won’t be working.

“If he can’t figure out how to turn that much fame into revenue today, he deserves to starve.”
He already figured out how to turn that much fame into revenue today: merchandising revenue. The issue is he’s not being paid what he was promised.

Alien Bard says:

Re: Re:

I’m assuming you’re being sarcastic, but just in case you are trolling…

To be precise, he is asking for money still owed him FROM decades ago. I can’t speak for everyone but if my employer failed to pay me wages I earned I wouldn’t dismiss the money just because it’s been a few years since I did the work…

Also, this is another example of studios NOT supporting the artists they claim to be helping.

Matt (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Okay, but (whether OP was trolling or no,) there is an underlying point here. Who cares that his face is plastered all over? Why should he have any right to collect for that? I know he had a contract to that effect, but why the expectation that he would participate in the backend?

The best answer I can come up with is that the merch is selling because of the show’s popularity, and his efforts increased the show’s popularity. In other words, the payout is not for the use of his likeness, but completes the compensation for his acting services. I hope any legal action, and the contract, are phrased that way and there is no tie between the compensation and the use of his likeness.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: FAIL

Reading comprehension …. FAIL

“Best says his original contract with Warners entitled him to 5% of merchandising revenue from products that featured his identity, or 2.5% of total revenue for merchandise when other cast members were incorporated.”

He is contractually entitled to receive 5% of merchandise sales of merchandise FEATURING HIS IDENTITY, and 2.5% of all other merchandise.

I would hope basic reading comprehension wasn’t this poor, but all it takes is looking around here on a daily basis….


Re: Re: Re: Stiffing the talent

Why should Roscoe get a cut?

Forgetting for a moment that this guy signed a contract…

The copyright is still in effect. As long as the fat cats get to have a pay day then the talent should be compensated as well.

Roscoe’s potential revenue stream should only end when the revenue stream of the “owner” of the intellectual property ends. If anyone is still milking the cow, then everyone should be able to benefit.

The only way that Roscoe should be cheated out of what’s due him under contract is if the relevant works have lapsed into the public domain. Until that happens, Roscoe should expect to get his due.

AG Wright (profile) says:

He should be paid because

It’s simple. He has a contract that says he should be paid. The studio promised him to pay him for the use of his likeness and didn’t do it and didn’t bother to use standard accounting practices to account for that money that they did get.
It shouldn’t take 30 years to get an accounting of what and where those monies were received and spent on. It should take a few months to get everything together and it should be finished.

Matt (profile) says:

Re: He should be paid because

It’s simple. You have a contract that says you will not use any software in any way that Microsoft does not like ever again. You promised not to use software to criticize copyright policy and didn’t do it and didn’t use a browser log to track all of your activity on the internet.

It is not simple. To the degree his contract is intended to set up a stream to pay him for future uses of his likeness, it is a licensing agreement. Although practically speaking this happens all the time, jurisprudentially it is suspect – the “right of publicity” is not a right at all, it is a (common law most places, statutory in California) tort. In general, it is difficult or impossible to release future torts. Contracts to do so are ineffective. This is a consumer protection mechanism – if you could release future torts, every company would include in its shrinkwrap license a clause that releases it from any product liability. If Best did not actually release anything (because his release is not effective,) there is no consideration for the license royalty. The contract is unenforceable and the studio was right not to pay.

I am not saying that is going on here – I have not taken the time to read the contract or even Best’s claims, other than as reported by Mike. But there is an important question here as to the reason the backend was included. If it was to compensate him for the use of his likeness, it is icky. If it was to compensate him for his contribution to the popularity of the show, it is less icky. If the latter, it might have been cleaner to have created a company for this purpose and given Best 2.5% of the company.

Alien Bard says:

Re: Re: He should be paid because

I like your concept of providing the individual artists with relative ‘stock’ in their production. This sounds like something that would be particularly effective in relation to large collaborated efforts such as movies, and would help ensure that the profits continued to reach the makers and creators, even giving them a truly vested interest in the continued success of their joined efforts.

Nicedoggy says:

This just highlights the very first thing people should go after in the industry.

Their accounting schemes.
If anybody else did half what those executives do, they be in jail for fraud, embezzlement and tax evasion why AG are not all over this?

Those are billions of dollars and jobs lost, creative accounting finances terrorists.

iBelieve says:

Courts allow for this

Its always cheaper for a corporation to settle out of court than to have done what was agreed upon origionally. Its cheaper to not honor contracts. American courts take what they can get in these suits as well, because they do bring money into the system. This is why lawyers have such a devious reputation protecting and filtering the laws that will make them rich. Corporation business as usual.

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