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1970s pop icon David Cassidy sues Sony

By Scott Zamost, CNN
October 5, 2011 -- Updated 2128 GMT (0528 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • 1970s pop icon David Cassidy filed a lawsuit Wednesday against Sony
  • The lawsuit claims Cassidy has been 'swindled' out of merchandising profits
  • Cassidy, 61, says he has only received $5,000 from Partridge Family merchandise
  • A Sony spokeswoman had no comment

(CNN) -- Pop star David Cassidy filed suit on Wednesday against Sony, claiming he was not paid for his image on merchandise from the hit television show, "The Partridge Family," in which he starred.

"For nearly 40 years, defendants have swindled Mr. Cassidy out of his rightful share of the profits from The Partridge Family, and when Mr. Cassidy has inquired as to the matter, have lied to him so as to continue to conceal their deception," said the lawsuit, filed on Wednesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

"Mr. Cassidy has reason to believe, and does reasonably believe, that defendants have been perpetrating a scam" and "will continue to go to any and all lengths necessary, no matter how despicable, to avoid upholding" his contract, the suit said.

Named as defendants are Sony Pictures Entertainment, and subsidiaries Screen Gems Inc. and CPT Holdings Inc.

The suit, which alleges fraud and breach of contract, demands "in excess of millions of dollars, in amount to be determined at trial."

A Sony spokeswoman said the company does not comment on matters involving litigation.

In an interview with CNN, Cassidy, 61, said he simply wants what's owed to him.

"It's just a matter of being fair, and doing the right thing," Cassidy said. "I have no other alternative if Sony is not going to be reasonable."

He told CNN that his former manager told him he has only been paid about $5,000 for merchandise.

David Cassidy rose to fame in the 1970s as a pop singer and star of The Partridge Family TV show.
David Cassidy rose to fame in the 1970s as a pop singer and star of The Partridge Family TV show.

"I'm going to let a jury decide if David Cassidy is entitled to his fair share," he told CNN.

Under his 1971 contract with Screen Gems, Cassidy was supposed to get 15 percent of net merchandising revenues for the use of his image, voice or likeness, and no more than half of that for items in which that if other cast members appeared.

"Mr. Cassidy quickly became a teen idol," the suit, filed by attorneys Kenneth Linzer, Rachael Shinoskie and Elisha Weiner, states. "At the height of the show's success, he received an average of 30,000 letters from fans a week; having the largest fan club in the world in its day, surpassing even Elvis Presley and The Beatles."

The suit said the show, which aired from 1970 to 1974, was one of the first -- if not the first -- to be merchandized on a worldwide scale with board games, magazines, coloring books, paperbacks, posters, pillow cases, toy guitars, dollars, lunch boxes, beach towels, pencil cases, comic books, children's' clothing, and music sales.

"All of which, it has been reported by knowledgeable news sources, generated nearly $500 million for defendants," the suit said.

Cassidy: 'I was grossly underpaid'

Despite promises in his 1971 contract to provide financial statements for merchandising, Sony has "either never provided such accountings and reports, or provided such accountings and reports only begrudgingly, inconsistently, inaccurately and fraudulently."

In a letter sent to Sony in May, Cassidy's attorney Craig Marshall, requested a full accounting of the merchandise.

"We are formally requesting an accounting and payment for any and all sale, exploitation, or other use of Cassidy's name, likeness, voice or other exercise of such merchandising rights," states the letter to Gregory Boone, executive vice president of legal affairs for Sony Pictures Television. "In that regard, we also request a prompt and full accounting and payment of proceeds for any merchandise that was sold, exploited or otherwise used subsequent to the rights period set forth in the agreement."

Boone responded in a letter that Sony "could not (and so far as we know did not) enter into any new merchandising licenses" using Cassidy's "name, voice and likeness rights" after the show went off the air.

"We have searched for copies of the merchandising net proceeds rendered to Mr. Cassidy in the 1970s, but have been unable to locate them," the letter said. "However, we did find some correspondence...showing that Mr. Cassidy's representatives audited such statements. Therefore, they must have been rendered to him."

Any potential claims, the letter said, are invalid because the "statutes of limitation" had expired decades ago.

Asked why he waited so long to raise the merchandising issue, Cassidy said he didn't have a copy of his contract until, after a string of moves and business managers, he found it in a box that he hadn't opened since the 1970s.

Besides his claims that he was cheated out of merchandising revenues, he said new merchandise from the show has continued to be produced in the last 10 years. He said, since the merchandising rights reverted to him one year after the show went off the air and he was entitled to profits from the show, he was supposed to also get paid for any new merchandise.

For example, Cassidy showed CNN a "The Partridge Family" toy bus and model kit with a 2001 copyright. The company that manufactured the toy, Playing Mantis Inc., has since been sold. But a spokeswoman for the new company confirmed that the toy was produced in 1998 and again in 2001 with Sony's permission.

A toy hamster that sings "I Think I Love You" also has a 2001 copyright from Gemmy Industries Corp. Lio Chang, a company vice president, told CNN that Gemmy got permission to use music from a Sony subsidiary.

Still another "Partridge Family" toy bus has a 2003 copyright from CPT Holdings, which is Columbia Pictures Television, a Sony subsidiary.

A Sony spokeswoman had no comment when CNN asked about these recent copyrights.

The only other cast member reached by CNN from "The Partridge Family" who said he received money from merchandising is Brian Forster, who replaced Jeremy Gelbwaks as Chris Partridge is the second season. Forster said he received about $1,100, after his mother demanded payment from the studio.

The other cast members contacted by CNN said they either didn't have a merchandising clause in their contracts or do not remember getting paid.

Cassidy's comments to CNN follow interviews earlier this year with cast members of "Happy Days," who are suing CBS over the same issue. Actors Don Most, Anson Williams, Marion Ross and Erin Moran, as well as the widow of actor Tom Bosley, filed a $10 million suit in April, claiming CBS, which owns the show, failed to pay them for "Happy Days" merchandise, which is still being sold around the world.

After the lawsuit was filed, CBS Corp. sent checks to the actors totaling $43,403. But Jon Pfeiffer, the actors' attorney, said he would not cash the checks while the case is pending because that would imply his clients agree with CBS that is all they are owed."

In a statement, CBS said it agreed the actors are owed money for the merchandise, but dispute the amount. In a court filing, the company said the actors are "attempting to generate a lucrative litigation windfall by riddling their complaint with unsupported and overreaching causes of action" for fraud and breach of good faith. CBS said this was "all done in a transparent attempt to introduce the specter of punitive damages" in the case.

But the actors fired back in court papers, saying "although defendants routinely rebrand their corporate images, they should not be permitted to rebrand the truth."

For Cassidy, he said the issue with "The Partridge Family" is the same -- where did all the merchandising money go?

"I'm asking for fairness, I'm asking to be treated with respect as opposed to, 'we don't owe you anything,'" Cassidy said.

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