from the death-is-no-escape! dept
The Motion Picture Academy is notorious for being quite litigious, particularly when it comes to anything to do with the Oscars. Hell, even websites essentially promoting the Oscars get sued by the Academy, because why the hell not? And don’t you dare try to sell your tickets to the Oscars on the secondary market. But even with all of that, I wouldn’t have expected to see the Academy assert that they own the award hardware they hand out to Oscar winners, including after the death of those winners. Confused? Check this out.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has lined up a new lawsuit, painting the picture of a cinematographer’s heir who ignored bylaws by selling a statuette on eBay. The statuette was awarded in 1953 to Robert Surtees for excellence in black-and-white cinematography for the film, The Bad and the Beautiful, which starred Kirk Douglas and Lana Turner. More than 60 years later, the Film Academy is in court after Carol Surtees allegedly auctioned the statuette for $40,500. The Academy makes its members agree that it has a “right of first refusal” if the statuettes are ever sold. To prevent a black market for the famous trophies, the Academy believes itself entitled to purchase the statuettes for $10 in the event they are ever sold.
Carol was the wife of Bruce Surtees, who in turn was the son of Oscar winner Robert Surtees. In other words, the Oscar statuette from 1953 had been passed down to Carol after her husband and father-in-law had both passed away. She’s the widow of the winner’s son. The point of me driving this home is that, even if we pretend that it makes sense for the Academy to be able to claim that an item worth thousands of dollars must first be offered to them for the price of 2/3 of a ticket to one of their movies, that agreement would have been with the award winner, not his or her heirs. In this case, the statuette had been passed on twice thanks to the grim reaper doing his thing. In what world does it makes sense for Carol Surtees to have to follow bylaws to which she never agreed?
Not that this lack of logic is keeping the Academy from suing for every last dollar she got for the statuette. You can read the full lawsuit [pdf and embedded below].
The Academy alleges that it sent a letter to Surtees on December 5, spoke on the phone with her on December 12, and despite reminders about the right of first refusal, the auction happened on or about that latter day. She’s now being sued for breach of contract. The lawsuit also names John Does, who are being sued for alleged tortious interference. The Academy demands at least $40,500 in compensatory damages, punitive damages, and an order that the Oscar be put in a constructive trust, among other demanded relief.
I just can’t seem to grasp how someone can be in breach of a contract to which they were not party. The Academy can assert they have these rights all they want, but I can’t seem to find any reference to why those rights should exist with respect to Carol Surtees.