Spillane Trial Group Represents Producer in Dispute to Settle Copyright Ownership of Academy Award-Winning ‘Babette’s Feast’

In April, Spillane Trial Group PLC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California on behalf of Josi W. Konski against the Danish Film Directors association and Gabriel Axel, director of Babette’s Feast, winner of the 1988 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Konski is seeking declaratory relief to determine that he is the sole copyright holder to the film and that neither the Danish Film Directors nor Axel have rights to interfere with an anticipated re-release of the film in Bluray and DVD formats in the United States and Canada.

The defendants claim Axel retains a copyright interest in the film arising from a provision of Danish copyright law that expresses certain “moral rights” for authors of creative worksKonski acquired the rights to Babette’s Feast in 2007 when he purchased all assets, rights, projects and intellectual property from the estate of Just Betzer, who produced the film.

Axel had previously contested his rights to certain payments under his directing and writing agreements for Babette’s Feast, including in a 1997 arbitration with Just Betzer, and has continued to press Konski for contractual payments, but until recently had never taken the position that he owned a copyright interest in the film. It was not until the Danish Film Directors and Axel learned of a new DVD and Bluray release of Babette’s Feast that they asserted for the first time that Axel owned a copyright interest in the film under Danish law.

“Apparently frustrated by their inability to prove Axel was owed royalties, the defendants have resorted to unlawful tactics to force payment,” said Jay Spillane, who represents Konski. “The Danish Film Directors directly stated to my client’s distributor that my client did not own the copyright to Babette’s Feast. When pressed for an explanation, the Directors cited a provision of Danish copyright law expressing ‘moral rights,’ however, those rights do not give Axel a veto on a copyright transfer by Just Betzer, nor would they prevent a new release of the film in DVD and Bluray formats.”

Babette’s Feast tells the story of a political refugee from France who repays the kindness of the two Danish sisters who employ her by using all her winnings from a lottery to cook a sumptuous meal for the sisters and their friends. Washington Times reporter John Hayden listed the film as Number 3 on his list of the top 12 Christian-themed movies. Recently, the film has received widespread media attention as the favorite film of Pope Francis.

Both The Hollywood Reporter and the Wall Street Journal reported about the lawsuit.

“Oscar-Winning Film at Center of Tug-of-War”: https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/thr-esq/oscar-winning-danish-film-at-433272

“A Legal Dispute Over the Pope’s Favorite Movie”: https://blogs.wsj.com/law/2013/04/30/a-legal-dispute-over-the-popes-favorite-movie/