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Starz Suit Against Disney Unit Produces 'Massive' Documentation

Disney’s Buena Vista Television unit, defending itself against a breach-of-contract lawsuit filed by Starz Entertainment, on Wednesday won an extra three weeks to prepare for trial after complaining that it was swamped by the millions of pages of documents generated by the case.

Starz sued BVT -- now called Disney-ABC Domestic Television -- in March 2007, alleging Disney violated the terms of its distribution contract by making movies like Cars and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest available through Apple’s iTunes and other Internet outlets during windows BVT had already exclusively licensed to Starz. The case was filed with the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

Buena Vista Television in a July 3 application requested the trial date and other deadlines be postponed. The company said it has produced “massive amounts” of documents already—157,000 documents, estimated to be more than 3 million pages—and that Starz has not finished producing all the documents. The resulting delays left BVT unable to schedule depositions for its expert witnesses, its lawyers said.

BVT, which handles television-distribution agreements for Disney films, asked the court to move the trial from the original date, Oct. 14, to mid-January 2009 or later.

Starz opposed the rescheduling move, arguing that it has “worked diligently to meet these long-established deadlines, while BVT manifestly has not.”

Starz also alleged that BVT has “expanded its breach and infringement” of Starz’s rights since the suit was filed 16 months ago, through deals with Internet-movie distributors Vudu and CinemaNow.

U.S. District Court Judge Valerie Baker Fairbank on Wednesday granted BVT’s request for more time but only allowed three more weeks, rescheduling the trial for Nov. 4. After Starz filed its suit, CEO Bob Clasen said in an interview that the introduction of the Apple TV set-top—which allows users to watch iTunes movies on their HDTV sets—was a key reason his company took legal action against Disney.

The court in July 2007 denied Buena Vista Television’s request to dismiss the suit.