Judge recommends in favor of Discovery in ‘Johnstons’ lawsuit

More news has emerged in the legal dispute between Encino-based LMNO Productions and Discovery Communications. A magistrate judge in Los Angeles has issued a recommendation that LMNO, which has produced ...
December 12, 2016

More news has emerged in the legal dispute between Encino-based LMNO Productions and Discovery Communications. A magistrate judge in Los Angeles has issued a recommendation that LMNO, which has produced numerous reality shows for the cable group, hand over footage and materials for the second season of 7 Little Johnstons, produced for its TLC net.

The 13-page decision from U.S. Magistrate Judge Steve Kim, issued Dec. 9, recommends that U.S. district judge John Kronstadt issue a writ of possession for all materials to be returned to Discovery, and also states that in issuing that writ, “the court may also issue an order ‘directing the defendant to transfer possession of the property to the plaintiff’ or be held in contempt of court.”

Kronstadt had earlier turned down Discovery’s appeal to have the content transferred to its possession, while requesting a recommendation on the situation.

As part of the process, LMNO will have the opportunity to file a response, then Discovery will file a response to that. Until then, the District Court judge is expected to hold off on making a final ruling about the footage.

The contractual dispute over the show started in June when Discovery terminated contracts with the prodco on six series, including 7 Little Johnstons (pictured). The ensuing legal battle started off with a US$7 million lawsuit filed by LMNO, accusing Discovery of copyright infringement, breach of contract and attempting to “steal” the aforementioned titles by creating unauthorized derivative works. Discovery countersued, claiming that LMNO overstated production budgets in order to get the company to foot the entire bill for both fully commissioned programs and copros for which the two parties agreed to split costs and rights.

On Sept. 8, Discovery’s filed the ownership writ, after having paid out US$2 million to LMNO for season two of 7 Little Johnstons, according to legal documents. 

LMNO, meanwhile, refused the transfer.

In his ruling, Judge Kim wrote that LMNO’s only interest lay in being paid for the production of the show, not for ownership of any of the materials associated with the show. “Whatever LMNO may be owed and possibly awarded at judgment for its production of Season Two of 7 Little Johnstons, the end result will be the transfer of possession of the Program Materials to Discovery,” he wrote.

The judge also noted that the transfer of the materials “will not prejudice LMNO’s claims for damages or impair its asserted intellectual property rights” in the ongoing lawsuit.

The disputed materials include all source materials delivered on drives, mastercuts completed through July 2, rough, fine and locked cuts through to July 2, graphics masters, source tape logs, music cute sheets for the master cuts, EDLs for uncompleted projects, U.S. labor report for the second season, any other program materials and all cost reports until July 2.

In a written statement to realscreen, LMNO said: “We respectfully disagree with the Magistrate Judge’s recommendation to the District Court Judge — who will be making the final ruling on this issue. LMNO will file its response and objection next week, and we look forward to the District Judge’s final order.

“LMNO has consistently maintained that it very much wants this show to be aired, and the entire dispute is over whether Discovery has to pay the agreed price.  Therefore, LMNO is heartened that the Magistrate recognizes that the question of who possesses the materials is irrelevant to LMNO’s ultimate right to recover the amounts due.”

Realscreen has also reached out to Discovery for comment and will update the story as necessary.

(With files by Jonathan Paul)

About The Author
Meagan Kashty is an associate editor of realscreen, an international print and online magazine that covers the non-fiction film and television industries. Meagan is an award-winning business journalist. Prior to joining the realscreen team, Meagan was online editor of Canadian Grocer, named Magazine of the Year at the 2015 Canadian Business Media Awards. She can be reached at mkashty@brunico.com, and you can follow her on Twitter @MegKashty