A Dallas videographer is seeking more than $1 million in damages from Dallas’ Bennett, Weston, LaJone & Turner in a case stemming from his unsuccessful claims against comedian Steve Harvey.
Bennett Weston co-founder J. Michael Weston and former Bennett Weston lawyer Casey Erick are facing a negligence suit alleging they mishandled a lawsuit Joseph Cooper filed over rights to videos he took of Harvey.
Cooper has further alleged that the defendants “imprudently” advised him to sign a settlement agreement with Harvey that included a waiver of any rights Cooper had to the videotapes he made more than 25 years ago.
“Defendants’ acts led to Cooper’s loss of copyright ownership under the terms of the settlement agreement. This loss caused Cooper to suffer significant economic damages,” Cooper said in a petition he filed Dec. 28 in state district court in Dallas.
Weston, the president of Bennett Weston, declined to comment on Cooper’s complaint. Erick, now a partner at Kessler Collins in Dallas, could not immediately be reached for comment.
Plaintiffs attorney Nick Oweyssi of The Oweyssi Law Firm of Houston is representing Cooper.
Cooper alleged that, because he failed to obtain a declaratory judgment establishing his rights under the Copyright Act, he could not complete a distribution deal for the early videotapes of Harvey. He alleged a damages expert found that he potentially lost revenue ranging from $864,396 to $4,321,980 for just a limited selection of the videos.
In Cooper v. Bennett, Weston, LaJone & Turner, Cooper said he agreed in 1993 to tape and edit video for Harvey at Dallas’ Steve Harvey Comedy House and was paid $2,000 for the work. He alleged that he shot more than 100 hours of footage and, because he was an independent contractor, “the copyright in the footage is invested in Cooper.”
A few years after that, Cooper alleged, distributors became “interested in getting a glimpse into Harvey’s formative years as an entertainer” via the videotapes, but Harvey “did not share the sentiment.” Cooper alleged that Harvey and his attorneys repeatedly interfered in his business deals to distribute the tapes.
Cooper “finally had enough of Harvey’s bullying,” his petition said, so he hired Bennett Weston to seek a declaratory judgment affirming his copyright on the tapes, and Weston and Erick worked on the litigation.
“Lamentably, defendant attorneys’ gross mishandling of Cooper’s case became a comedy,” Cooper’s petition said.
He alleged the defendants committed several errors, including the “major blunder” of bringing a copyright infringement cause of action and a breach of contract claim, instead of seeking declaratory judgment.
The jury did not find in Cooper’s favor, his complaint said. He alleged that the defendants imprudently advised him to enter into the settlement, which included a waiver of his right to appeal and a waiver of any existing rights to the videos.
“By signing the agreement, Cooper relinquished his copyright ownership rights under the Copyright Act,” Cooper’s petition said.
Oweyssi could not immediately be reached for comment.