50 Year James Bond Battle Finally Laid to Rest - Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal
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50 Year James Bond Battle Finally Laid to Rest

50 Year James Bond Battle Finally Laid to Rest

A dispute that dates back to 1959 regarding rights to the world-renowned James Bond films has finally been settled after a fierce legal battle that lasted more than 50 years.  The James Bond empire boasts 24 films to date, which have grossed a total of more than $1.91 billion domestically, and over $6 billion worldwide, making it the second highest-grossing film series to date, behind Harry Potter.

The copyright dispute began in 1959 when Kevin McClory collaborated with Ian Fleming, the author of the James Bond novels, and writer-for-hire Jack Whittingham, to create the first James Bond script into the novel “Thunderball”.  In 1961, the “Thunderball” novel was released and did not give credit to McClory.  McClory sued in 1961 over ownership rights, claiming co-authorship and contribution to invention of both characters and elements, including the iconic characters Blofeld and SPECTRE, leading to a settlement between the parties.  McClory also took credit for proposing a Bond film set in the Bahamas to Fleming.  McClory was given permission to produce the film “Thunderball” following the settlement.  Thunderball was released in 1965 and was the fourth film in the series. 

But the legal battle was just beginning.  According to the law firm BakerHostetler LLP, which represented McClory, following the release of the “Thunderball” film in 1965, varying interpretations over the intellectual property rights granted in the settlement between Fleming and McClory led to an excess of lawsuits which persisted over the course of several decades.  Of the lawsuits, several significant rulings followed.  These included a London Court in 1983 ruling that McClory was permitted to produce James Bond films.  Thus, McClory was able to make the film “Never Say Never Again” in 1983, starring Sean Connery.  This film competed directly with “Octopussy”, starring Roger Moore, which was produced by another company, the predecessor to the current producer of James Bond films.

However, McClory suffered a setback in 2001, after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in California ruled that he had asserted his claim for royalties from the films too late, and rejected all his royalty claims.  McClory also made an attempt to sell the rights to the movies in order to create a Bond film to Sony, but a judge enjoined the studio from being able to do so after MGM filed suit.  McClory, a native of Ireland who was once romantically connected to Elizabeth Taylor, eventually died in Dublin in 2006 at the age of 80.  His family took up his case, and continued the legal battle with Danjaq LLC, the producer of the James bond films, and Metro Goldwyn Mayer (MGM), the longtime distributor of the James Bond film series.

Finally, on November 15, 2013, after over 50 years of intellectual property disputes, a settlement was announced between Danjaq LLC, Metro Goldwyn Mayer, and the estate of Kevin McClory.  The James Bond rights are finally secure, and Danjaq and Metro Goldwyn Mayer have acquired the rights of the McClory family as part of the terms of the settlement agreement.  Settlement terms and the amount paid in the settlement were not disclosed to the public.

Jessica Ginzburg

Jessica is a second year law student, and a staff member of the Intellectual Property, Media, and Entertainment Law Journal. Her interest in IP, Media, and Entertainment Law stems from her experience working with an online eyewear start up, Vint & York, where she worked as a Brand Development Coordinator.