March 21, 2009 / 3:11 PM / 10 years ago

Tribune sues Warren Beatty over Dick Tracy rights

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Tribune Media Services has filed a lawsuit against Academy-award winning director and actor Warren Beatty to recover motion-picture and television rights to iconic comic-strip character Dick Tracy, according to court documents.

Actor Warren Beatty arrives at the taping of the American Film Institute's 36th Life Achievement Award gala honoring Beatty at the Kodak theatre in Hollywood, California June 12, 2008. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

In a Delaware court filing on Thursday, Tribune Media Services, a unit of bankrupt newspaper publisher Tribune Co, said Beatty “wrongly claims” to have exclusive motion picture and television rights to the well-known police detective character.

According to court papers, Beatty bought the motion picture and television rights for Dick Tracy in 1985 and went on to act and direct the 1990 film by the same name. The movie won three academy awards and its cast included Dustin Hoffman, Madonna and Al Pacino.

Tribune Co, however, said Beatty had “made no productive use” of the rights for over a decade, causing them to revert back to Tribune. The company said the economic benefits of the property was worth potentially millions to the company and its creditors.

Both parties have been engaged in a legal battle over the rights since late 2006, according to court documents.

In November, Beatty filed a suit against Tribune Media Services in California, claiming he had begun work on a Dick Tracy television special, which should preserve his rights to the character.

Tribune, in its suit, said that the TV special being produced solely for the purpose of preserving Beatty’s rights would not benefit either party, and that it does not believe Beatty has begun shooting the special in the manner that would be required under their agreement.

A lawyer for Beatty was not immediately available.

Tribune filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in December last year hurt by heavy debts and a decline in advertising.

The bankruptcy case is In re: Tribune Co, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, District of Delaware, No. 08-13141. The California case is Warren Beatty v. Tribune Media Services Inc et al, No. 08-07662.

Reporting by Santosh Nadgir in Bangalore and Emily Chasan in New York

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