France’s Wild Bunch International, Studiocanal UK Go To Battle In U.K. Courts Over Studio Ghibli Rights

French sales powerhouse company Wild Bunch International (WBI) and Studiocanal UK have embarked on a legal battle in the U.K. High Court over rights to Studio Ghibli films in the territory.

Studiocanal UK has taken issue with the 2019 Netflix deal brokered by WBI giving the platform worldwide streaming rights to much of the Studio Ghibli catalogue.

In a legal claim filed on November 3, the company says the accord had impacted its ability to exploit 15 Studio Ghibli titles in the U.K., included in a home entertainment deal signed in 2015, and renewed in 2017.

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The 2019 Netflix deal for worldwide rights (excluding North America and Japan) to 21 Studio Ghibli titles was seen as ground-breaking at that time.

Up until that point, Studio Ghibli films had only been available theatrically and then via DVD, Blu-Ray, or terrestrial broadcast, because co-founders Hayao Miyazaki, late Isao Takahata and Toshio Suzuki had refused to sell the digital rights on a territory-by-territory basis.

WBI has handled international rights to all Studio Ghibli films since 2002 when it secured the sales mandate for Miyazaki’s Oscar-winning hit Spirited Away.

Studiocanal UK, a subsidiary of Paris-based, pan-European film production and distribution giant Studiocanal, is the long-time home entertainment distributor of Studio Ghibli titles in the U.K.

This connection with the Japanese animation studio and the Wild Bunch sales team, which spun off on its own under the WBI banner in 2019, dates back to the era of Optimum Releasing, which was acquired by Studiocanal in 2006 and rebranded as Studiocanal U.K in 2011.

Under the original tenure of co-founders Will Clarke and Danny Perkins, the company played a pioneering role in the early 2000s in bringing Studio Ghibli titles to U.K. audiences under the Optimum Asia label.

This set-up continued until the departure of Perkins as Studiocanal UK CEO in 2018, to co-found the Elysian Film Group, which would go on to snag rights to Studio Ghibli’s last production Earwig And The Witch.

Sources close to the case, say that none of the original Optimum Releasing contracts or the renewed Studiocanal UK deals in 2015 and 2017 included streaming rights.

They add that none of the distributors in other territories, who held home entertainment licenses for the Studio Ghibli titles, had raised objections to the Netflix deal.

In retaliation, WBI has launched a separate suit claiming back royalty payments for the Studio Ghibli titles it claims that Studiocanal has failed to pay under the terms of the 2015 deal and its renewal.

Neither Studiocanal UK nor WBI returned requests for comment. Netflix and Studio Ghibli are not involved in the case.

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