When Perth’s Prospero Productions decided to take on the U.K.’s Survival Anglia in a court case, it was a classic David and Goliath confrontation. The Aussie indie was moved to seek legal recourse when they felt the producer and director credits on Hutan: Wildlife of the Malaysian Forest, a series wholly financed and produced by Prospero, were altered in a way that indicated Survival’s production team, Catspaw, had created it. Survival had acquired Hutan from Prospero’s London-based distributor, Primetime, as part of a package of programming.
In September, after 18 months of wrangling, Survival ultimately admitted the mistake and paid Prospero a token £1,000 settlement and £40,000 of the prodco’s legal fees.
Prospero director Ed Punchard says he and partner Julia Redwood would have been satisfied with an apology and correction of the credits, but they knew unless they showed some muscle, they wouldn’t get a satisfactory resolution. Muscle meant suing for £500,000 in February 1999.
‘The response that came back from Survival was extremely aggressive,’ Punchard notes. ‘They fought us very hard, and their lawyers used every possible mechanism to get us to cave.’
In September 1999, Punchard says Survival applied for a security of cost, a £150,000 advance to cover Survival’s costs in the event Prospero lost the suit, which would have required he and Redwood to mortgage their home. At that point, Prospero offered to settle, asking Survival to cover legal fees, admit wrongdoing and pay £1,000, which would be donated to charity. At first, it appeared Survival had accepted, but Punchard says, in his opinion, the British company didn’t fully honor the agreement. He explains: ‘They issued a press release saying that they had settled, but that they hadn’t done anything wrong. In the press release it actually stated that this was a spurious action. So, we then had to wheel the lawyers out for a second time and the whole thing went on for another 12 months.’
In the final court hearing, Prospero attempted to prove Survival had not yet admitted liability, but the judge ruled that it had. In Punchard’s opinion, it was still a victory. ‘The judge instructed that they had to publicly admit liability and they couldn’t do anything to make out they hadn’t. That was the point at which it was resolved.’ Survival’s only comment, ‘This was a minor dispute over credits.’