Academy Sues Joseph Wright’s Heirs for Auctioning His Oscar

1942 Statuette sold by Briarbrook Auctions for $79,200 in June

The heirs of late Oscar-winner Joseph Wright sold his 1942 statuette at auction for $79,200. Now, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has filed suit against the Wright heirs for violating its bylaws that prohibit its members from selling their Oscars without first offering the Academy right of first refusal to purchase them for $10.

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The suit says that the rule also applies to anyone who inherits an Oscar. The Academy has named Wright’s heirs, the auction house, and the unknown buyers of the statuette as defendants.

Wright won the Oscar for color art direction on the film “My Gal Sal.” He was a member of the Academy from 1933 to 1983, which binds him to the Academy’s bylaws, according to the lawsuit.

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In the suit, filed in the Los Angeles Superior Court, the Academy seeks to recover damages from the Oscar’s sale, obtaining equitable relief, declare the Oscar is held in constructive trust for the Academy, and demanding that the defendants sell it to the Academy.

The suit quotes the bylaws of the Academy in regards to Oscars, detailing the $10 buyback offer, as well as the fact that the agreement “shall be binding not only to me [the winner], but also on my heirs, legatees, executors, administrators, estate, successors and assigns.” The statuette can be passed down to the winner’s heirs, but they cannot then sell it without first offering the Academy the statuette for $10.

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In the suit, the Academy alleges that they contacted Briarbrook prior to the sale to alert them that the Academy had the right of first refusal to buy the Oscar, and that they intended exercise that right. The suit alleges that Briarbrook refused to take calls from the Academy, even going so far as to hang up on them when a call did go through, once they realized it was the Academy on the line.

Because of this, Briarbrook and its agents were singled out for interfering with a contract in the suit, as they allegedly knew they were in breach of Academy bylaws by selling the Oscar at auction.

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The Academy is seeking compensatory damages in excess of the $79,200 sale price of the Oscar at auction, as well as punitive and exemplary damages. They are also demanding that they be allowed to purchase the Oscar for $10, per their bylaws, and any legal costs.

Pamela Chelin contributed to this report.