Hans Hertell and James Sammataro with Stroock & Stroock & Lavan.
Hans Hertell and James Sammataro with Stroock & Stroock & Lavan. (J. Albert Diaz)

If a film starring an Oscar winner can lose millions of dollars, there’s little hope for a less star-studded movie.

That’s according to a film executive whose expert testimony about the grim economics of moviemaking helped a broadcaster defeat a seven-figure damages claim for copyright infringement at trial.

When the federal trial began in Miami, U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke had already ruled that Puerto Rico-based network Mega TV had violated copyright law by broadcasting an unauthorized copy of the film “Pablo.” The tape came from a third-party distributor that the network believed was providing a licensed film, according to defense lawyers.

The filmmaker, Yosmani Acosta, argued Mega TV had caused about $7.7 million in damages by airing the film more than a dozen times, costing him a distribution deal.

But Mega TV and its parent company, Spanish Broadcasting Systems Inc., told the jury the film was unlikely to rake in anything close to that amount.

“The film business is very, very unforgiving,” said Miami lawyer James Sammataro of Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, who represented the defendants with his colleague Hans Hertell. “It’s cutthroat. Movies with Oscar-winning talent lose money. … There’s no guarantee.”

Jurors agreed, awarding Acosta zero dollars Oct. 25 after a two-week trial.

The verdict hinged on the testimony of dueling expert witnesses, both lawyers and veterans of the entertainment industry.

The plaintiffs called Hector Almaguer, who has served as in-house counsel for the Latin American arms of Viacom, Universal Music Group and HBO.

He presented the jury with a list of independent Spanish-language movies that he said were comparable to “Pablo,” the fictional story of a Cuban child raised in a broken home.

“Pablo” was featured at the New York City International Film Festival in 2013. The film won festival prizes for best director and best supporting actor.

Almaguer said comparable films included “Broken Embraces,” a 2009 romantic thriller starring Penelope Cruz; “Instructions Not Included,” a 2013 dramedy that became the highest-grossing Spanish-language film to open in North America; and “Under the Same Moon,” a 2007 drama starring Kate del Castillo, known in real life for her relationship with drug lord El Chapo.

Defense expert Jason Janego co-founded the label Radius-TWC for the Weinstein Co., whose titles included Oscar-winning documentaries “20 Feet From Stardom” and “Citizenfour.” He detailed 11 factors that help predict a movie’s box-office success, including the talent, the director, the distributor and the sales agent.

Some of the films the plaintiffs expert listed had 10 out of 11 predictors of success—but “Pablo” had zero, the defense argued.

Mega TV’s lawyers also disputed Acosta’s allegation that the unauthorized broadcast cost him a multimillion-dollar distribution deal. Sammataro said “Pablo” had only been offered a “four-wall agreement” with New York Film Market, meaning the distributor would rent movie theaters in New York and not split the box office revenue with theaters.

“It was unlikely to pick up any deal, and proof of that was that he never really got any deals,” Sammataro said. “This four-wall agreement was not a deal.”

It was a tough case for jurors, Sammataro said, as they had to play accountant, film executive and film critic. The jury deliberated for about six hours before coming back with a defense verdict.

Acosta was represented by Will Trueba of Espinosa Trueba Martinez in Miami and Aldo Leiva of Lubell Rosen in Coral Gables. Trueba did not respond to a request for comment on whether Acosta plans to appeal the judgment.

Spanish Broadcasting System’s general counsel Richard Lara said in a statement that the company “obviously respects copyright” and regrets relying upon the company that provided Mega TV with the unlicensed copy of “Pablo.”

“Nonetheless, this jury verdict should send a signal to would-be plaintiffs that finding of liability is not a carte blanche for damages,” he said.

Case: Yosmani Acosta v. Mega Media Holdings et al

Case no.: 1:15-cv-21837-MGC

Description: Copyright infringement

Filing date: May 14, 2015

Verdict date: Oct. 25, 2016

Judge: U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke

Plaintiffs attorneys: Will Trueba, Espinosa Trueba Martinez, Miami; Aldo Leiva, Lubell Rosen, Coral Gables

Defense attorneys: James Sammataro and Hans Hertell, Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, Miami; Richard Lara, general counsel for Spanish Broadcasting System Inc., Miami

Verdict amount: Defense verdict

If a film starring an Oscar winner can lose millions of dollars, there’s little hope for a less star-studded movie.

That’s according to a film executive whose expert testimony about the grim economics of moviemaking helped a broadcaster defeat a seven-figure damages claim for copyright infringement at trial.

When the federal trial began in Miami, U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke had already ruled that Puerto Rico-based network Mega TV had violated copyright law by broadcasting an unauthorized copy of the film “Pablo.” The tape came from a third-party distributor that the network believed was providing a licensed film, according to defense lawyers.

The filmmaker, Yosmani Acosta , argued Mega TV had caused about $7.7 million in damages by airing the film more than a dozen times, costing him a distribution deal.

But Mega TV and its parent company, Spanish Broadcasting Systems Inc., told the jury the film was unlikely to rake in anything close to that amount.

“The film business is very, very unforgiving,” said Miami lawyer James Sammataro of Stroock & Stroock & Lavan , who represented the defendants with his colleague Hans Hertell. “It’s cutthroat. Movies with Oscar-winning talent lose money. … There’s no guarantee.”

Jurors agreed, awarding Acosta zero dollars Oct. 25 after a two-week trial.

The verdict hinged on the testimony of dueling expert witnesses, both lawyers and veterans of the entertainment industry.

The plaintiffs called Hector Almaguer, who has served as in-house counsel for the Latin American arms of Viacom, Universal Music Group and HBO.

He presented the jury with a list of independent Spanish-language movies that he said were comparable to “Pablo,” the fictional story of a Cuban child raised in a broken home.

“Pablo” was featured at the New York City International Film Festival in 2013. The film won festival prizes for best director and best supporting actor.

Almaguer said comparable films included “Broken Embraces,” a 2009 romantic thriller starring Penelope Cruz; “Instructions Not Included,” a 2013 dramedy that became the highest-grossing Spanish-language film to open in North America; and “Under the Same Moon ,” a 2007 drama starring Kate del Castillo, known in real life for her relationship with drug lord El Chapo.

Defense expert Jason Janego co-founded the label Radius-TWC for the Weinstein Co., whose titles included Oscar-winning documentaries “20 Feet From Stardom” and “Citizenfour.” He detailed 11 factors that help predict a movie’s box-office success, including the talent, the director, the distributor and the sales agent.

Some of the films the plaintiffs expert listed had 10 out of 11 predictors of success—but “Pablo” had zero, the defense argued.

Mega TV’s lawyers also disputed Acosta ‘s allegation that the unauthorized broadcast cost him a multimillion-dollar distribution deal. Sammataro said “Pablo” had only been offered a “four-wall agreement” with New York Film Market, meaning the distributor would rent movie theaters in New York and not split the box office revenue with theaters.

“It was unlikely to pick up any deal, and proof of that was that he never really got any deals,” Sammataro said. “This four-wall agreement was not a deal.”

It was a tough case for jurors, Sammataro said, as they had to play accountant, film executive and film critic. The jury deliberated for about six hours before coming back with a defense verdict.

Acosta was represented by Will Trueba of Espinosa Trueba Martinez in Miami and Aldo Leiva of Lubell Rosen in Coral Gables. Trueba did not respond to a request for comment on whether Acosta plans to appeal the judgment.

Spanish Broadcasting System’s general counsel Richard Lara said in a statement that the company “obviously respects copyright” and regrets relying upon the company that provided Mega TV with the unlicensed copy of “Pablo.”

“Nonetheless, this jury verdict should send a signal to would-be plaintiffs that finding of liability is not a carte blanche for damages,” he said.

Case: Yosmani Acosta v. Mega Media Holdings et al

Case no.: 1:15-cv-21837-MGC

Description: Copyright infringement

Filing date: May 14, 2015

Verdict date: Oct. 25, 2016

Judge: U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke

Plaintiffs attorneys: Will Trueba, Espinosa Trueba Martinez, Miami; Aldo Leiva, Lubell Rosen , Coral Gables

Defense attorneys: James Sammataro and Hans Hertell, Stroock & Stroock & Lavan , Miami; Richard Lara, general counsel for Spanish Broadcasting System Inc., Miami

Verdict amount: Defense verdict