Peter S. Beagle and Connor Cochran, who in August announced a settlement of the 8-year fight over rights to the movie The Last Unicorn, have issued an e-mail discussing the resolution in detail. Conlan Press also has announced some new projects made possible by that development.
Q: What was the problem, exactly?
A: Peter wasn’t getting paid. The animated version of The Last Unicorn was making millions of dollars around the world from VHS sales, DVD sales, cable distribution, and satellite broadcasts — but despite having a contract, Peter wasn’t getting his due share of that money from Granada Media, the English company that owned the film. In fact, he basically wasn’t getting any money from the film at all. For example, between January 2001 and January 2011 over 2.5 million copies of The Last Unicorn sold through North American retail video outlets, and the royalty Peter got from all those sales was exactly zero.
Q: Was anybody doing anything about this?
A: Certain people were trying. Connor Cochran took up the cause in 2003, when he read a news article in The Hollywood Reporter announcing all kinds of new international media business with the film. Since Connor is Peter’s business manager, he immediately got on the phone to England and tried to get Peter the money he was owed. Granada Media responded by claiming they didn’t owe anything…and what followed was an eight-year conflict over which side was right. It wasn’t a constant battle — sometimes things would be incredibly intense, and other times months would go by without anything shifting — but there were many twists and turns along the way, and the fight took lots of time, energy, and money. A bunch of Peter’s fans made direct donations which helped defray some of the legal expenses, while many others helped with the costs by purchasing things from Peter at conventions, or through Conlan Press. More than a thousand fans, from 55 different countries, posted messages of support on a public website. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Peter got additional important assistance from friends like David Roudebush and Terri Kempton, and from his attorney, Charles E. Petit. But despite all this effort, between 2003 and 2010 there really wasn’t anything that could be called progress. Just a frustrating and expensive game of corporate Whack-A-Mole.
Q: What changed?
A: In spring 2010, Peter and Connor decided to take Granada Media to court. After some research they picked the law firm of Holme Roberts & Owen for the job (because they had offices in LA, San Francisco, and London) and settled on attorney Richard J. Mooney to handle the case. Then, during prep for the filing, Connor noticed something which wound up making all the difference in the world.
Q: What was that?
A: All along, Peter and Connor had known that Granada Media was a subsidiary of a much bigger company — a huge European media conglomerate called ITV. What Connor noticed was that ITV had recently gotten a new CEO, a man named Adam Crozier, who came in from outside the company and had a mandate to pretty much completely clean house: get rid of things that weren’t working, make marginal properties more profitable, etc. To put it bluntly, this new CEO had no reason to cover up for anyone’s past bad judgment or mistakes and every incentive to make good new business happen. So, after some internal discussion, Connor sent a letter directly to Adam Crozier himself. The person at ITV who was tasked with responding was the company’s Group Legal Director and Corporate Secretary, Andrew Garard. Andrew really took the situation seriously. He dug in, did his research, met with Peter and Connor and Richard Mooney in New York City last November, and ultimately came to the conclusion that we were was right — (a) Peter wasn’t getting his due, and (b) if we stopped fighting and started working together, The Last Unicorn could be even more successful than it already was. Settlement details were worked out at a second meeting, this time in Los Angeles, and finally, last August, the settlement paperwork was signed.
Q: What does this mean for Peter?
A: First, from now on he will get his contractually-due share of Last Unicorn earnings. If the movie is shown on cable TV in Kuala Lumpur, or a Blu-ray sells in Joplin, Missouri, Peter will get his proper piece. Second, over time he’ll get a series of payments that will make him whole for all the years he wasn’t be paid.
Q: What does this mean for Connor?
A: He gets to stop putting time and resources into this problem, and will finally be able to catch up on some long-delayed Peter S. Beagle/Conlan Press projects. (Hooray!)
Q: What does it mean for ITV?
A: Adam Crozier and Andrew Garard and ITV proper all get a big round of richly-deserved applause for doing the right thing, and the company eventually winds up making more money as all the new business gets worked out.
Q: What does it mean for Last Unicorn fans?
A: A lot of exciting things, we hope. That’s the new business part. The original 1978 animated film contract divided up rights in the property in ways which didn’t make a lot of sense (even at the time), but which are flat-out ludicrous in today’s media world. The third part of the Peter S. Beagle/ITV deal was an agreement to work out a way to put those scattered rights back together in a powerful unified package. It’s going to take a while to figure out all the details, but we’ve begun, and already a bunch of things which weren’t legally possible before are about to happen.
Q: For years there’s been talk of a live-action Last Unicorn film. Does the settlement mean that there will finally be one?
A: The live-action film is a separate issue. A small London-based company called Continent Films currently has the exclusive right to do a remake of The Last Unicorn, and they will own that right until February 2015. Maybe they’ll get a movie off the ground before they lose the rights, maybe they won’t: we don’t know. All we can say is that Peter hopes they won’t get anything made, because he doesn’t trust them to do a good job.