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'Millionaire' Creators Win $269.2M Verdict Against Disney

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By Tanya Roth, Esq. on July 08, 2010 1:17 PM

Who gets to be a millionaire? The creators of the popular game show, "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" according to a federal jury, who came to that conclusion on July 7. The jury agreed with the plaintiffs' claims that creative accounting by the Walt Disney Company had deprived them of their rightful share of licensing fees and merchandising profits. The verdict awarded the British TV production company, London-based Celador International, a total of $269.2 million.

The Associated Press reports that plaintiffs Celador sought profits from the show from August of 1999, through the day the original complaint was filed in May of 2004. At the time Celador presented the show to Disney-owned ABC, the network was in desperate need of a hit. According to the plaintiffs' attorneys, the show was a great success and the 50-50 profit share deal should have provided big returns to both plaintiffs and Disney.

Lead Celador attorney, Roman Silberfeld, told the AP that the show put the defendant's network in first place, allowing them to charge more in ad revenues. "But," he said, "ABC and a series of affiliated companies entered into a series of agreements that were solely intended to show 'Millionaire' never showed a profit. If you look at an accounting statement today, after 10 years on the air, it says it has lost money every year and is $75 million in the red."

The jury was clearly swayed by the evidence put on by Celador, answering the 18 page verdict form questions unanimously in favor of the plaintiffs. The Walt Disney Company, however, has vowed to fight on.

"We believe this verdict is fundamentally wrong and will aggressively seek to have it reversed," the company said in a statement. Disney attorneys did not return calls by the AP for additional comment.

Both the case, and auditing of books and accounting records, continues.

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