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Judge Continues Hearing on Planetary Society CEO Bill Nye’s Royalties Lawsuit Against Buena Vista Television

Published on Monday, October 5, 2020 | 5:01 pm
 
Bill Nye

A judge on Monday said he wanted more briefing before making any pretrial rulings in a lawsuit filed by television personality Bill Nye, head of the Planetary Society in Pasadena, who alleges that Walt Disney Co. subsidiary Buena Vista Television engaged in questionable accounting and cheated him out profits from his show, “Bill Nye the Science Guy.”

During a lengthy hearing in which many issues were covered, Los
Angeles Superior Court Judge David Cowan heard arguments over whether a “video device” described in a March 1993 agreement by the parties contemplated the evolution of modern streaming capabilities, as argued by defense attorney Lucia Coyoca, or simply referred to the commonplace tapes, discs, and other physical
devices of the time, the position taken by Nye attorney A. Raymond Hamrick III.

Hamrick also argued that outside expert testimony is needed to
interpret the 1993 contract regarding its alleged inapplicability with modern digital rentals and with subscription services such as Netflix because they did not exist at the time and had no associated manufacturing costs.

But Coyoca stated in her court papers that those issues can be decided without outside testimony and that the plaintiff did not allow his experts to be deposed by the defense.

Cowan said he was taking the arguments under submission and gave the lawyers a timetable for submitting briefs on several cases he believed were relevant to the case. He set another hearing for Nov. 30. The judge will decide later whether a jury is needed to decide some of the disputes in the case or if he will hold a non-jury trial on the accounting issues.

Nye filed the lawsuit in August 2017, alleging he and the other owners of the show are owed $28.1 million and Nye himself is owed at least $9.4 million.

Nye’s television series originally ran from 1992 to 1997 on PBS, and
is still streamed on services such as Netflix. Buena Vista struck a deal to distribute, market, and promote the series starting in 1993.

Nye, 64, alleges he was supposed to make 16.5 percent of net profits from the show. In 2008, Buena Vista sent him a royalty check for $585,123. According to the lawsuit, Buena Vista then told Nye there was an accounting error and that he actually owed the studio $496,111.

Nye alleges he was wary of the bookkeeping and tried to negotiate with Buena Vista, but the company failed to cooperate with his attempts to audit the earnings of the show. Nye alleges Buena Vista stopped making royalty payments in 2008 because of the dispute.

The lawsuit alleges the defendants did not act in good faith to
resolve the dispute and maintains the companies were part of a conspiracy to deceive Nye.

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