When a particularly explosive lawsuit is filed, entertainment attorneys love to forward it around to friends and colleagues to discuss. Back in my own lawyering days, I remember the chatter when Metallica dropped a bomb on Napster, and when producer Bob Yari sued for a credit on the Oscar winner Crash. So many Hollywood disputes are hashed out confidentially that when a big one hits the public docket, everyone wants to see what creative punches were thrown and how they might land. It’s litigation as a spectator sport; the nerdiest possible version of sitting ringside at a UFC fight.
That’s happening this week over a blockbuster Monday filing against Warner Bros., which you don’t need to forward to me since I’ve now received it many, many times. That’s because the suit represents the dramatic implosion of a 25-year financial partnership between Village Roadshow—the production company that is backed by the private equity firm Vine Alternative Investments—and Warners, a legacy studio that has funded 91 movies (everything from The Matrix to Joker) with about $4.5 billion of Village Roadshow’s money. And it’s also because the dispute centers on Warners’ recent trashing of its traditional business practices to serve its HBO Max streaming service, and how that paradigm shift impacts powerful partners like Village Roadshow.
In some ways, this lawsuit might be considered the culmination of AT&T’s brief, but impactful (many say disastrous) ownership of WarnerMedia. Like the chaos-inducing firing of Jeff Zucker at CNN in New York, the public airing of Village Roadshow’s grievances seems like a West Coast kiss-off to AT&T, just weeks before C.E.O. John Stankey hands off the company to Discovery. You’re welcome, David Zaslav.