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Flash News, 1-15: Protas
Graham Heir Takes Center and School to Court
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2001 The Dance Insider
In a showdown as dramatic
as any archetypal battle Martha Graham might have dreamed up, the
man who owns the rights to her ballets Friday filed suit in Federal
District Court in Manhattan to stop the Martha Graham Center and
School from using Graham's name, also seeking unspecified damages,
The Dance Insider has learned.
A copy of the 46-page
lawsuit, filed in United States District Court, Southern District
of New York by Ronald Protas, the Martha Graham Trust of which Protas
is the sole Trustee, and the Night Journey Foundation, was provided
to The Dance Insider by Marvin Preston, the executive director of
the Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance.
Protas's action comes
as the Graham School is set to resume
classes tomorrow after a 7-month hiatus, at new, temporary headquarters
A representative of the
Graham Trust Saturday confirmed that the lawsuit had been filed.
While the Graham board
and Protas have wrangled since May, when the board suspended operations
of the company and school citing financial problems, Friday's action
represents the first time Protas and the trust have actually filed
a lawsuit against the center, Preston said.
Saturday by telephone, emphasized that the center would still prefer
a negotiated settlement to a court dispute.
"Everybody wins if there's
a settlement," he said. "We come to some sort of agreement, everyone
shakes hands, and we can continue to propagate the know-how and
art of Martha Graham. A court action may (result) in everyone winning,
(it) may not, but it will certainly take a lot longer, and just
the passage of time will hurt the art form. Our interest is very
real in settlement, and we frankly have not attacked Ron because
we want to facilitate a settlement."
However, Preston also
allowed that, "from our point of view," the law suit is "good news
because it formalizes the battle that we've been preparing for....
We've all along tried to make it clear that we are not anxious to
initiate any battle, but knowing the nature of this dispute, (we
knew) at some point it would happen, and we see that as good news
because a battle is long over-due. It needs some kind of resolution
-- preferably a settlement, but it's increasingly likely it will
be litigated. If (we're) not going to settle fairly definitively,
we'll be in court. Entering in the formal process will be good,
because it will demand a resolution."
Protas's 46-page lawsuit
enumerates numerous charges and accusations, concluding with 15
"causes of action" that include alleged Federal trademark infringement,
alleged false designation of origin as regards use of the Martha
Graham (MG) trademarks, alleged commercial use of the MG trademarks
without authorization, alleged unfair competition, alleged breach
of contract as regards the licensing agreement between the trust
and the center over the use of Graham's ballets, alleged breach
of contract regarding royalties and other issues and fees, alleged
infliction of mental distress, and alleged civil conspiracy.
The suit asks the court
to enjoin the center and school from using the MG marks in advertising,
promotion, and commerce; from representing themselves as having
the rights to use Graham's name or likeness; from operating any
web site which includes the Graham name; and from reproducing or
preparing derivative versions of, or performing Martha Graham works
publicly without authorization from the trust or foundation.
It also asks that the
company and school surrender all advertising, promotional, and other
goods with the Martha Graham name to the trust and that it account
to the trust for profits derived by the use of the Graham name and
Protas seeks damages,
"to be determined at trial" according to the suit, for the alleged
"willful trademark infringement, (and) unfair competition;"
punitive damages for alleged unfair competition; and return of personal
property and sets allegedly in the possession of the center. He
also seeks damages for alleged breach of contract, alleged intentional
affliction of emotional distress, and the alleged civil conspiracy,
"to be determined at trial."
According to Preston,
Protas's action comes after Protas earlier in the week sent a letter
of demand asking the Center and School to cease and desist in the
use of the Graham name.
Preston declined Saturday
to respond in full to the charges contained in Protas's suit, saying
that he had only just gotten the suit, and that he preferred to
defer to counsel.
"There are many arguments
on our behalf; it's a matter of which arguments are to be applied
and in what order, and that is up to our Counsel. Our point of view
is yet to be heard."
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