Academy sues US family over Oscar auction

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is suing the family of an Oscar-winning US filmmaker for allegedly selling his golden statuette in breach of contract.

The Oscar-awarding Academy says the family of art director Joseph Wright, who won the coveted award for the 1942 film My Gal Sal, auctioned it off for US$79,200 (S$98,785) last month.

Under a contract which all Oscar recipients sign with the Academy, the prestigious body says it has the right of first refusal for the sale of any of its statuettes, at a guaranteed cost of US$10.

"The Academy has never intended that the 'Oscar' be treated as an article of trade," said a lawsuit filed Monday in Los Angeles, and published by the Hollywood Reporter.

Wright died in 1985, and the Academy claims that Wright's family entered into an agreement with Briarbrook auction house in Rhode Island to sell the Oscar, a sale which it says took place on June 24.

On June 23 the Academy learned about the planned sale, and tried to communicate by email and telephone with the auctioneers.

"After a number of calls originating from the Academy's landline number went unanswered, the Academy's counsel called Briarbrook from a cellphone without the Academy's called identification," says the lawsuit.

"A woman at Briarbrook answered the call, but hung up when she was informed that the caller was from the Academy. Subsequent calls went straight to voicemail," said the lawsuit.

Briarbrook did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.

It is not the first time the Academy has taken legal action over the sale of Oscar statuettes.

In February 2012, the Academy tried but failed to block a Los Angeles auction house from selling a collection of 15 of Oscars for than US$3 million, including a Best Screenplay Academy Award for the iconic movie Citizen Kane, given to Herman Mankiewicz in 1941.

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