Monday, April 16, 2007
Suit Over Lack of Producer Credit for Films Held SLAPP
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A suit by a film producer, who is also a former lawyer, charging the operator of the popular Internet Movie Data Base with failing to credit him for three films he worked on was properly dismissed as a strategic lawsuit against public participation, the Court of Appeal for this district ruled Friday.
Div. Four affirmed Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Terry B. Friedman’s order striking a complaint for declaratory relief by David E. Kronemyer. Kronemyer, who is credited on IMDb with having produced seven films and served as legal counsel or legal consultant on two others, was admitted to the State Bar in 1976 and resigned with disciplinary charges pending last year.
Kronemyer alleged in his complaint that he was an executive producer of the highly successful independent film “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” a producer of the movie “Wishcraft,” and a producer of the television production “Stand and Be Counted,” and asked that IMDb be ordered to identify him as such.
In moving to strike the complaint as an infringement on its free speech rights, IMDd asserted that its policy, which appears on the Web site, is that, “with a few exceptions,” credits are listed “exactly as they appear on screen.” The site has a procedure for submission of corrections, which Kronemyer said he availed himself of, but the company says it reserves the right to “reject/delete information at any time for any reason, especially if [IMDb is] unable to verify it.
IMDb said that Kronemyer is not credited with the three productions in question because his name does not appear in the credits. Kronemyer responded by providing documentation regarding his involvement with “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” explaining that his name does not appear on “subsequent prints” of the movie because he left the production company, Gold Circle Films.
He also claimed he had similar documentation concerning the other two productions but did not submit it.
At the hearing on the motion, Kronemyer said that the anti-SLAPP statute did not apply because he was not attacking the company’s free speech rights, but rather its inaction in response to his queries. Friedman, however, ruled that IMDb, used by 35 million people every month, is a public forum, that the listing of credits for “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” was of considerable public interest, that the listings involve the exercise of free speech rights, and that Kronemyer did not show a likelihood of prevailing.
The judge struck the complaint and awarded IMDb more than $6,000 in attorney fees, plus costs.
Presiding Justice Norman Epstein, in an unpublished opinion for the Court of Appeal, said the trial judge was correct, rejecting the plaintiff’s contention that the commercial nature of IMDb’s activity places it outside the realm of the anti-SLAPP statute.
“Here, the listing of credits on respondent’s Web site is informational rather than directed at sales. According to the evidence submitted in support of the motion, it provides a message board and chat room for members of the public as well as listing of credits for 400,000 movies and television shows. The site is visited by 35 million people each month. We conclude that the credit listings on respondent’s Web site are not commercial speech and are protected by section 425.16. If appellant’s position that the prospect of some financial benefit from a publication places the material in the area of ‘commercial speech,’ it would include virtually all books, magazines, newspapers, and news broadcasts. There is no authority for so sweeping a definition.”
The jurist went on to say that the evidence presented by Kronemyer did not establish a prima facie case for declaratory relief.
The plaintiff, Epstein wrote, presented no evidence at all as to two of the productions, and his evidence as to “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” was weak.
Kronemyer “attached two documents to his declaration purporting to identify him as an executive producer,” the presiding justice explained. “The first is a ‘Loan and Security Agreement’ dated September 2000 between Big Wedding LLC and The Lewis Horowitz Organization. Page 30 of that document states that the movie would be executive produced by appellant and others. This does not establish that appellant was entitled to be listed as an executive producer on the finished film.”
Calls to a phone number listed in State Bar records for Kronemyer, who represented himself in the Court of Appeal, went unanswered. Kathleen O. Peterson and Luke G. Anderson of Preston Gates & Ellis were appellate counsel for IMDb.
The case is Kronemyer v. Internet Movie Data Base, Inc., B193613.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company