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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

No Matter What Kind of Court, Sharapova is a Loser

The Moscow News reports that Maria Sharapova's losing ways are not confined to the tennis court, but persist in courts of law as well. In classic Soviet fashion, she tries to censor a documentary about her life, and when she fails she claims she didn't really care about it anyway.

A federal judge ruled against tennis star Maria Sharapova on Wednesday, saying a Florida production company was entitled to market a documentary on her despite her agents’ attempts to halt distribution, AP reports.

U.S. District Judge Donald Middlebrooks said Byzantium Productions Inc. was lawful in its production of two films, “Anna’s Army” and “Russian Women’s Tennis.” The documentaries did not violate trademark laws, the judge found.

Jonathan Koch, a Tampa attorney representing Sharapova, said he initially believed there was potential for confusion among consumers that the films were official documentaries. As the litigation progressed, though, he said he changed his mind.

“As we investigated and as the controversy developed we concluded that the commercial significance of the matter did not justify being involved in a lawsuit,” Koch said.

The decision means Byzantium, a two-man operation in West Palm Beach, can move forward with plans to distribute its work in Japan and elsewhere, though the filmmakers said the damage had already been done.

“We’re thrilled to have this all over with. It’s been a long battle — they destroyed our business,” said Peter Geisler, the company’s vice president. “This should allow distribution to continue, but my guess is that it’s most likely too late.”

In addition to footage of Sharapova, the films include interviews with Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean King, Chris Evert and others.

IMG, the agency that represents Sharapova and her company, SW19 Inc., had said Byzantium illegally used the tennis player’s identity and infringed on her company’s trademark and legal rights, among other claims. The agency threatened legal action.

Martin Reeder, a Jupiter, Fla.-based attorney for Byzantium, said those threats kept the film from further distribution.
“It’s still sitting in warehouses,” he said.

Sharapova was the first Russian to win the Wimbledon title. She was born in Russia but now lives in Florida.

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