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Golden Globes Trial Begins: Attorneys Clash Over TV Rights (Updated)

The HFPA claims it never approved a contract, but DCP counters that it did not need the organization’s consent

(Updated: 5:07 p.m. PST)

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) and Dick Clark Productions (DCP) squared off in Los Angeles federal court on Tuesday morning to determine who controls the television rights to the Golden Globe Awards. 

In a brief opening statement, Daniel Petrocelli, an attorney for the HFPA, argued that DCP negotiated a contract with NBC to air the show without its consent. 

Also read: Battle Over Golden Globes TV Rights Heads to Court

Marty Katz, an attorney for DCP, countered that thanks to a clause in its contract, the production company retains the rights to the broadcast every time it reaches a new deal with NBC. 

The HFPA is the non-profit organization behind the popular awards show; DCP has produced the awards show for more than two decades. The legal feud between the two side began more than a year ago, after DCP signed a new seven-year, $150 million pact with the network to broadcast the show. 

Petrocelli said that DCP's decision to move forward independently on a contract with NBC was "inconsistent" with the way it has handled previous broadcast contracts. 

The attorney said that DCP's negotiating style "defies common sense" and led to "an irrational, unconscionable and absurd result." He promised to prove that the HFPA has complete control over the broadcast.

Katz said that DCP was granted expansive rights to the show because it had played a pivotal role in rehabilitating the controversial awards show. The attorney said that broadcast networks turned away from the Golden Globes in the early '80s after allegations emerged that Pia Zadora's husband had bought his wife an award by giving the group's members gifts.

He said it took Dick Clark's extensive industry connections to help the group move out of the cable backwoods to NBC. 

"That was the…pot of gold at the end of the rainbow," Katz told the court. 

In return for securing the licensing bonanza, DCP amended its contract so that it included an "extensions clause" that renews the company's contract every time NBC extends its licensing pact and granted the company 50 percent of all broadcast fees.

To press their point that the production company has an overly generous interpretation of its contract, HFPA attorneys called former DCP executive Fran La Maina to the stand. 

Petrocelli pressed La Maina on the negotiating particulars of past television contracts with the Turner cable network TBS and NBC. He tried to prove that in the past DCP executives had needed the approval of the group's membership before signing any new pacts. 

La Maina said it could not recall if the company had previously needed the HFPA's approval. He did admit that he had urged DCP to include the "extensions clause" in a 1993 amendment to its contract with the HFPA.

However, La Maina said that he never felt obligated to explain to the group's members that the new contract gave it the power to retain rights to the show if NBC continued its deal to broadcast the show. He said that it was not his responsibility to represent the awards group's interests. 

"I don't think I misled the Hollywood Foreign Press," La Maina said. 

He is expected to testify for two more days.