Attorneys for the organizers of the Golden Globe Awards and its longtime producers sparred Tuesday over whether an 18-year-old agreement gave the company a perpetual right to work on the show as long as it airs on NBC.
If the agreement is interpreted as the producers want, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association argued that it would lose crucial rights to its signature property _ a glitzy awards gala that is worth millions of dollars each year.
The producers, dick clark productions, however, claimed they received a now-disputed perpetuity clause in part for resurrecting the show after a scandal knocked it from airwaves in early 1980s.
After six hours of arguments, U.S. District Judge Valerie Baker Fairbank, said she planned to issue a ruling this week. She gave no indication of how she would rule and asked few questions.
In a filing Monday, she asked attorneys to address whether the producers' interpretation of a 1993 agreement with the HFPA _ that it had rights to work on the show as long as it aired on NBC _ would result in an "absurdity."
"It would plainly result in an absurdity," HFPA attorney Daniel Petrocelli argued. "We would be at their mercy. Forever."
An attorney for the production company, also known as dcp, argued that courts have long upheld the rights of parties to enter into agreements that might seem strange to outsiders. In the case of the nearly 30-year history between the HFPA and dcp, the perpetuity clause made sense, attorney Brad Phillips said.
The production company "had accomplished essentially miracles for this show," Phillips said. "There is nothing absurd about it at all."
At stake is not only of Hollywood's highest-profile awards shows, but also tens of millions of dollars. Tax records for 2009, the most recent year available, show that HFPA received $7.5 million for the Globes.
HFPA and dcp split revenues from the Globes 50-50 under their agreement, which was first entered in 1983. Their relationship began months after CBS canceled its contract to air the show after a controversy emerged over the HFPA, long criticized for being too cozy with the stars it honored, was accused of impropriety in awarding a newcomer award to Pia Zadora.
HFPA President Aida Takla-O'Reilly, seated in the front row at the hearing, shook her head as Phillips recounted the scandal.
The association of roughly 80 foreign journalists sued the production company in November, claiming it negotiated an extension for the Globes to air on NBC through 2018 without proper permission.
Phillips earlier in the day urged Fairbank to reject HFPA's claims, arguing they should have sued years ago.
Petrocelli said the association had to wait until dcp acted improperly _ by signing a new deal with NBC _ before it could sue.
Both sides highlighted language from the 1993 agreement and numerous discussions about it since then to try to sway the judge.
Phillips said that as recently as 2009, the HFPA tried to negotiate its way out of the "perpetuity" clause, but rejected a proposal that the groups enter into a 30-year deal.
If the judge does not rule for either side, a jury trial to decide the broadcast rights ownership will begin on Aug. 30.
The HFPA has said there is plenty of time to plan next year's show, regardless of whether they win this round in court or have to take their case to a jury.
Anthony McCartney can be reached at http://twitter.com/celebritydocket