This could throw one hell of a wrench into things for fans of both the beloved Danish drama Babette’s Feast and also The Criterion Collection.
According to a report from The Hollywood Reporter, director Gabriel Axel has filed a lawsuit claiming that he, not producer Josi Konski and his Astrablu Media, holds the rights to his Oscar winning film.
Axel filed a lawsuit in California federal court this past week, and adding fuel to the fire here is that two weeks ago, the Danish Film Director’s trade association released a statement agreeing that Axel owned the film’s copyright. In 2010, the Danish Copyright Act was amended only to state that there is something known as “moral rights,” positing that a director has the ability to reclaim the rights if they are transferred from one company to another. Here’s the full backstory via THR:
The film was produced by Just Betzer and when it came out 25 years ago, it was owned by Betzer’s company, Panorama Film International. The complaint says that when the film was made, and Axel agreed to render his directorial services, the contract acknowledged that Panorama retained copyright.
Panorama is also said to have registered copyright on the film in the U.S. in 1987, “listing Panorama as the author,” and that a decade later when Axel initiated arbitration over owed royalties due, he didn’t assert ownership. Nor, according to the lawsuit, did he make any claims on Betzer’s estate when the producer died in 2003, or when the film rights were sold four years after that.
The only complication appears to be a company named Nordisk, which is said to have partially financed and co-produced the film and which retained a minority financial interest. The relationship between Panorama, Nordisk and Axel is somewhat complicated, but in 2000, Nordisk reportedly acquired rights for Babette’s Feast in Scandinavian territories with Panorama retaining rights elsewhere.
After Konski came to an agreement to acquire rights to the film, and then made an agreement with Janus for a DVD re-release, he heard from the Danish Film Directors, representing Axel, that he owed the director 15 percent of the gross profits. In response,Konski asserted that he had not assumed any obligations.
The lawsuit then follows, “Apparently frustrated by their inability to show that Axel was due any payment, on information and belief, the Danish Film Directors and Axel decided to resort to unlawful tactics to force payment.”
Konski says that on March 21, he got a letter that asserted he had no copyright interest in Babette’s Feast.
Now, while the lawsuit seems to be relatively new, this does cause an interesting predicament for the pending Criterion release of the film. If the rights are in fact in the hands of the film’s director, then it remains to be seen if he’ll still stand by the deal with Janus films and Criterion, but all signs point to this causing one hell of a delay for the pending DVD/Blu-ray release.
Overall, this is a rather twisty story that we will certainly keep an eye on going forward. Hopefully this gets wrapped up soon and that Criterion/Janus can keep their hands on the film in order to re-release it in theaters and put it on home video.