There is a new chapter in the five-year legal battle between two producers and NBCUniversal over the hit Syfy franchise Ghost Hunters, which went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The producers, parapsychologist Larry Montz and publicist Daena Smoller, have filed a new breach of implied contract lawsuit against NBCUniversal claiming that Ghost Hunters is based on a concept they originally pitched to the company between 1996 and 2003. Along with NBCU and its cable networks division that includes Syfy, the complaint also names Ghost Hunters executive producer Craig Piligian and star/producer Jason Hawes. (Copy of the lawsuit can be found here.)
The new lawsuit, filed yesterday in Los Angeles Superior Court, comes less than 2 months after the U.S. Supreme Court denied an appeal by NBUniversal to review a lower court ruling that reinstated a complaint by Montz and Smoller alleging that Syfy stole the idea for Ghost Hunters. Montz and Smoller first filed a lawsuit against NBC Universal in 2006. They lost in district court on the issue of copyright, but the case was reinstated after appeal on grounds of implied breach of contract. NBCUniversal, with the backing of the MPAA, argued to the Supreme Court that federal copyright law trumped state contract law. The high court declined to review the appeals court ruling, which allows the suit by Montz against NBCUniversal, Piligian’s Pilgrim Films & Television and other defendants to proceed.
In the new suit, filed by the law firm of Girardi-Keese, Montz and Smoller reiterate their claims that they and their agents, managers, legal counsel and other representatives presented their concepts for a show about paranormal investigators using technology to investigate reports of haunted properties to numerous executives at NBC, Syfy (then Sci-Fi Channel) and other NBC Universal networks as well as people associated with the production company Pilgrim Films and Television.
Montz and Smoller contend the defendants requested detailed information about their concepts including videotapes and written materials. Plaintiffs say in the court papers that they complied with the requests, attended several meetings and discussions with NBC executives and provided additional information on their concepts. Ultimately, the suit says, the NBC defendants informed Montz and Smoller they were not interested in the concepts or programming based on them. However, the suit says, NBC defendants allegedly teamed with Pilgrim Film and TV and proceeded to exploit without authorization the plaintiffs’ “protected work, ideas and concepts” for the show about paranormal investigators.
According to the suit, plaintiffs registered their treatments for the series format with the Writers Guild on January 27, 2000 and on April 14, 2006, 2 years after the premiere of Ghost Hunters. On September 26, 2006, the U.S. Copyright Office registered plaintiffs’ work entitled Ghost Expeditions: Haunted. Concepts cited by the plaintiffs included ideas and material relating to a “reality television program” that featured a team of paranormal investigators led by an expert paranormal investigator conducting field investigations.
The suit says that after eight seasons of Ghost Hunters and several spinoff projects based on plaintiffs’ concepts pitched to the defendants, the defendants have made “millions of dollars” “without compensating or crediting plaintiffs for their concepts as they committed to do.” Montz and Smoller are seeking an injunction against unauthorized uses of any products or series based on their concepts. Additionally they seek restitution, general damages, lost profits, defendants’ profits, a thorough accounting, punitive damages, and plaintiffs’ costs and prejudgment interest. UPDATE: Reached for comment, a rep for Syfy said, “The claims are without merit and we expect to prevail in the litigation.”