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News editor: James Rumley
007NEWS produced by James Rumley and Panos Sambrakos

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sonyvsmgm.jpg (10886 bytes)The Cold War may be over but the battle brewing between Sony and MGM looks like it will be a showdown with all the tension of a spy thriller.

This conflict won't be fought on the battlefield or with clandestine spy operations, rather it will be waged in court by Hollywood's best lawyers.

It's a story rooted the days when the notion of a James Bond movie was just a dream.

Sony sues for share of Bond series' profits
Feb. 20 -- Daily Variety reported in a front page blockbuster that Sony Pictures Entertainment not only wants to produce a rival James Bond series -- it wants a share of MGM's $3 billion in profits from the 18 Bond movies.

Sony claims that it owns part of the James Bond film character deriving from Kevin McClory's 1963 settlement with Ian Fleming. McClory worked on script treatments with Fleming and another writer in 1959 and 1960. When Fleming published Thunderball, McClory sued him and won the rights to produce a Thunderball movie and some other plots.

Because McClory worked with Fleming prior to the production of the movie series, Sony argues that his contributions to the cinematic James Bond character means that he is owed a percentage of the profits.

MGM's legal counsel, Pierce O'Donnell told Reuters that the suit and countersuit would likely take a year to come to trial.

MGM says Bond is their's
Ever since Sony announced its plan to produce a rival James Bond movie, MGM has asserted that they are the only ones with the rights to produce a 007 series. In fact, MGM has called Sony's claims "delusional."

Shortly after Sony made the announcement, MGM and Danjaq filed suit on Nov. 17, 1997 against Sony for "claiming ownership of the James Bond film franchise." According to a Dec. 16, 1997 filing by MGM with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the suit alleges copyright infringement, trademark dilution and unfair competition among other charges. According to the filing, MGM states: "The complaint seeks various forms of legal relief based on the Company's [MGM] position that the defendants do not have any legal right to produce or distribute a franchise of James Bond films, or any James Bond films, in the United States."

"Never Say Never Again" - Again?
One of the most often asked questions by Bond fans involves the 1983 remake of Thunderball Never Say Never Again. Kevin McClory produced the film and enticed Sean Connery to come out of 007 retirement. The movie's plot closely mirrored Thunderball and was released in October 1983 -- after MGM's summer release of Octopussy.

Work on writing Thunderball begins

Kevin McClory sues Fleming for writing Thunderball the novel

Fleming settles suit; McClory gains ownership rights to Thunderball

McClory agrees to co-produce Thunderball with EON; secedes rights to exercise film rights for 10 years

McClory and Sean Connery pen original Bond screenplay; EON sues and McClory cancels plans.

McClory's Thunderball remake called Never Say Never Again hits theaters

McClory tells Variety he plans to remake Thunderball

Sony announces rival series based on McClory's 1963 settlement

In fall of 1996, Kevin McClory told Daily Variety that he was planning to remake Thunderball as Warhead 2000 A.D. In January 1997 he restated his plans in another interview with Variety. Then on October 14 Sony announced it would produce a rival James Bond series based on the rights owned by McClory.

In the press release McClory said:
"I had several choices of studios with whom to work, but Sony Pictures and Columbia stood head and shoulders above the other studios inexperience, unique production facilities, digital special effects and global distribution abilities. Plus, this is a great opportunity to join old friends John Calley, Gareth Wigan (co-vice chair, Columbia TriStar Motion Picture Group) and Amy Pascal (president, Columbia Pictures) in propelling James Bond into the 21st century."

Many Bond fans who see Never Say Never Again without knowing about the complex legal environment it emerged from don't understand why it doesn't have some of the standard elements of other James Bond films. Although plots are under legal dispute, Bond "trademarks" like the opening gunbarrel sequence, the unmistakable James Bond theme and the gun logo that follows "007" are owned by either Danjaq or MGM.

And MGM recently wrote a new chapter in the history of Never Say Never Again.  On Dec. 3 MGM announced it had purchased the global distribution rights to the movie from Taliafilm. MGM now controls the rights to every James Bond movie.

What rights Kevin McClory owns

In 1959 Kevin McClory and another writer, Jack Whittingham, teamed up with Ian Fleming to write a script called Thunderball. In 1961 McClory sued Fleming for writing a novel also titled Thunderball. In Depth
For a detailed and extensive look at the writing and scripting process that went into Thunderball, visit "Inside Thunderball" by Ian Fleming Foundation editor John Cork.

The 1963 settlement reportedly includes the following:

  • The right to make Thunderball into a film
  • All future publications of Thunderball were to be represented as "based on a screen treatment by Kevin McClory, Jack Whittingham, and Ian Fleming."
  • The rights to all aspects of Thunderball including a reported nine additional plot treatments and outlines, and to use the James Bond character in that movie.
  • Ian Fleming retained the right to the James Bond character.
  • Variety has reported that SPECTRE, Blofeld, Blofeld's white cat, and the health clinic Bond stayed at during Thunderball.
  • An October 1997 article in The Telegraph (London), reports that McClory has claimed the rights to other Bond plots including: using hidden hydrofoils, any use of the Bahamas, any atomic bomb hijacking, and any type of plot involving the Sicilian mafia.
In 1965 McClory co-produced Thunderball with EON in return for agreeing not  to remake the movie for the next ten years. In Depth
The FAQ discusses the issues surrounding Kevin McClory's rights.

In 1976 McClory, along with Sean Connery and Len Deighton, penned an original Bond script which McClory planned to make into a movie called Warhead 8. EON sued to prevent him and the eventual outcome of the '70s litigation was McClory producing Never Say Never Again.

Related Links
Sony Pictures Entertainment FAQ
"Inside Thunderball"


Neither Kiss Bang Productions, nor the editors of this web site are associated with Ian Fleming (Glidrose) Publications, EON Productions, Danjaq LLC, MGM/UA or any of the creators of the James Bond novels or films. See appropriate copyrights here. MKKBB is edited by Deane Barker, David Morefield, James Rumley and Panos Sambrakos. Designed and developed by Panos Sambrakos. MKKBB is hosting the Ian Fleming Foundation online section. © 2000-2001 Kiss Bang Productions, LLC.