Sumner Redstone had a long history of challenging the status quo — via litigation that often revealed questionable practices in the entertainment business and also laid bare more than a few of his personal squabbles.
“When your life depends on it, you must wage war,” Redstone wrote in his 2001 memoir, “A Passion to Win,” in which he devoted many pages to explaining his legal battles. The mogul who died Aug. 11 at the age of 97 credited his work as a Justice Department tax attorney in the 1950s for giving him a foundation for going to battle in court.
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Here’s a look at a few of Redstone’s high-profile legal fights.
Vs. Major Studios: In 1958, Redstone sued the major studios for “broad conspiracy,” challenging as ineffectual the consent decree that forced them to divest their exhibition businesses. In 1965, when he was chairman of the National Assn. of Theater Owners, he challenged the studio practice of “blind bidding,” in which exhibitors have to bid on a price for a movie before they even see it. In 1981 he sued Disney’s distribution arm Buena Vista over blind bidding, a major fissure between studios and theaters that ended in a truce of sorts in 1985.
Vs. Copley Plaza: After suffering severe burns in a fire at the Boston hotel in 1979, when Redstone famously survived by hanging out of a window on one hand, he sued for negligence. He wound up donating the proceeds to the Burn Center of the Massachusetts General Hospital.
Vs. Time Inc: Redstone in 1989 charged that the media giant was violating antitrust law by refusing to allow Viacom-owned Showtime and the Movie Channel entree to its cable systems while retaining HBO, which Time Inc. owned. The lawsuit was settled three years later, with an agreement to add more Viacom channels to Time’s cable systems.
Vs. John Malone: Again invoking antitrust, Redstone in 1993 sued John Malone and his TCI, claiming that they were engaging in “bully-boy tactics and strong arming competitors,” and monopolizing the cable business. At the time, TCI was supporting QVC in a landmark showdown over Paramount, which Viacom eventually won while taking significant debt. The lawsuit settled in 1995, as Viacom sold off cable operations to Malone as it tried to draw down its debt.
Vs. Brent Redstone. Redstone’s son Brent sued National Amusements in 2006 in order to gain control of his stake in the company. The lawsuit claimed that his father was trying to ace him out of the company, but it also helped expose a family feud over succession and control. Although the lawsuit was settled, with father buying out the son’s stake, there also was a fissure with daughter Shari over her influence.
Vs. Google: The lawsuit pitted old media vs. new media, by raising the issue of just who bears responsibility for rampant online piracy. Viacom sued YouTube in 2007, claiming that it was profiting off of tens of thousands of clips users had posted of content from Paramount movies and Comedy Central shows, among other properties. But the discovery in the case ended up embarrassing both sides, showing the extent to which companies attempted to exploit the emerging world of online video. Google won a ruling from a district judge who said that it wasn’t required to police YouTube for infringing content — just that it had to takedown infringing videos upon getting a notice. The two sides settled in 2014.
Vs. Sydney Holland and Manuela Herzer: In his final years, Redstone’s health declined dramatically. His attorneys fought an epic legal battle against his former female companions, whom he had thrown out of his life. The women, Sydney Holland and Manuela Herzer, alleged that Shari Redstone had gotten rid of them in order to seize control of her father’s affairs. They fought over Redstone’s health directives and for a piece of his fortune. Redstone filed his own suit, accusing the women of stealing $150 million. In the end, Shari Redstone was successful, reaching settlements under which the women dropped their claims. But the litigation also revealed intimate and unflattering details about the mogul’s last years.
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