Studiocanal has filed a lawsuit against producer-distributor Wild Bunch, and sales agent Wild Bunch International over a streaming rights contract negotiated with Netflix.
Studiocanal claims that Wild Bunch International’s license of the Ghibli repertoire to Netflix in 2019 violated a VOD rights agreement between Studiocanal and Wild Bunch.
Wild Bunch Foreign was a Wild Bunch subsidiary at the time of the Netflix transaction, having been split off from the company’s international sales department. It is now a separate entity.
The case does not include Netflix or Studio Ghibli.
Netflix said in January 2020 that it had bought the global streaming rights to 21 Studio Ghibli productions, including “My Neighbor Totoro,” except the US, Canada, and Japan (pictured above). Given the Japanese animation company’s reluctance to put its films on digital media, the transaction was regarded as a big coup at the time.
In a news release, Netflix awarded the deal to its “distribution partner” Wild Bunch International.
However, according to court documents obtained by Variety, Studiocanal claims that the Netflix contract violated its agreement with Wild Bunch relating to the license of 15 Studio Ghibli films in the United Kingdom and Ireland was inked in 2015 and renewed in 2017 for a four-year term.
According to Studiocanal, whose deal with Wild Bunch included exclusive “non-internet VOD rights,” the Netflix deal caused Studiocanal to “suffer loss and harm” due to decreased sales and the inability to gain Studio Ghibli internet streaming rights for itself.
Studiocanal has not disclosed how much money it believes it has lost due to the rival Netflix arrangement, instead requesting that the court assess the amount.
However, in their vehement defense filings, Wild Bunch and Wild Bunch International argue that “non-internet VOD rights” effectively do not exist in the United Kingdom or Ireland because there are no streaming services that do not use the internet. It is thus “unclear” what rights Studiocanal claim have been infringed.
They say Studio Ghibli was never interested in licensing their films’ streaming rights piecemeal, area by territory, and had only ever given them to Wild Bunch International to make a “near-global agreement” with Netflix.
The defense claims that Studiocanal’s failure to provide a specific dollar amount for the claim it is making in its lawsuit is an “abuse of process” and that, if anything, the Netflix deal increased awareness of and interest in the Ghibli films, which would have had a “positive” ripple effect on Studiocanal’s receipts.
In response to Studiocanal’s accounting of the Ghibli film receipts, Wild Bunch has also filed a countersuit against the studio for £1.3 million (about $1.5 million). The distributor claims that Studiocanal violated the contract’s terms by incorrectly allocating distribution costs to all means of distribution rather than just theatrical distribution.
In its countersuit, Wild Bunch contends that Studiocanal’s royalty statements falsely classify these costs as “Theatrical Revenue” even though they have also been incurred for non-theatrical distribution channels, including video and television.
According to Wild Bunch, the “wrongful deductions” constitute a breach of their agreement with Studiocanal and have caused the distributor “loss and injury.”
Studiocanal has not yet responded to the allegations.
Studiocanal, Wild Bunch, and Wild Bunch International declined Variety’s requests for comment.