The blogosphere was alight over the past week or so with commentary on every angle of today's Lawsuit of the Week. It is probably safe to say that the vehement opinions on the issue were colored more by personal feelings than any understanding of the law. Although personal feelings to some extent almost always shape the opinions of anyone but the purist of jurists, no one should be surprised that opinion is particularly divided when it comes to both parties in the present case; Moore v. Weinstein(s). In case any of our readers have not been paying attention to the Hollywood gossip circuit, these names refer to documentary filmmaker Michael and film producers Bob and Harvey, respectively.
According to Larry Stein, Moore's attorney, some financial slight of hand has led to $2.7 in profits from Fahernheit 9/11 not making it to his client's bank account. Stein said, "An independent auditor came in and discovered that the Weinsteins had re-routed at least $2.7 million dollars that belonged to Michael Moore from Fahrenheit 9/11... It's very sad it had to come to this. Michael believes the Weinsteins have been a force for good when it comes to championing independent film -- but that does not give them the right to violate a contract and take money that isn't theirs." According to Deadline Hollywood, Moore has already pocketed $19.8 million from the film.
It is not difficult to see both sides of this story, particularly if you remove the names from the heading. If Moore is entitled to the money he should get it, and the Weinsteins shouldn't be able to cheat people. At the same time, Moore's reputation is less than sparkling among much of the population, and he is not doing his, or Big Hollywood's, images any favors. In addition, Hollywood is a relatively small neighborhood, and people don't often forget about things like this.
In other words, Moore may very well win on the breach claim, but at what cost? A more sensible option would have been to allow the estimated $48 million he has gained from recent films gain a little interest over the next year or so if he was so concerned about the money. He could have also used the alleged shortfall as a negotiating tool in his next deal with the Weinsteins, a deal that had been in talks as recently as last week according to reports (though it is probably safe to say that negotiations have 'stalled' at this point).
This is very clearly a case of poor strategy. Moore is not one of the subjects of his films; he is not an innocent consumer bilked out of his life savings; he is not someone whose victory in a tort claim stemming from a car accident is the difference between paying medical bills or not. In short, he is not depending on this money. This is not to say that he isn't entitled to it. However it would have made more sense to use it as a bargaining chip in negotiations or put it on the table in the mediations that the Weinsteins had suggested. There is also a very real possibility that he could simply lose if he gets in front of a jury, rightly or wrongly.
In any case, Michael Moore's Q rating is most likely down this week, something that his detractors could hardly have thought possible until it was. As for his fans, let's just say they aren't necessarily the types who take too kindly to greedy capitalist pigs. No matter what, this is clearly a case where the reality on the ground probably doesn't match up with the rights someone is entitled to. In short, sometimes strategy counts. Unfortunately for Mr. Moore, it would appear that his strategy in this case was a poor one.