If the names Potsie, Ralph, and Mr. and Mrs. “C” are still familiar to you, it may not be because you’re feeling sentimental about the those “Happy Days” of the past. In fact, though the iconic sitcom ended its official run in the mid 80’s, the characters have continued to live on in a vast array of merchandising. Today you’ll find the images of the Happy Days characters on everything from greeting cards to slot machines. But the actors who portrayed those characters certainly have not hit the jackpot when it comes to the use of their sitcom images.
In a lawsuit that has been filed in court, some of Happy Days actors have claimed that they are owed a great deal of money that they have not been paid for the use of their characters in merchandising. In addition, they are accusing CBS, who owns the show, of purposefully concealing the money made from the sale of the merchandise. Essentially, the actors are saying two things: 1) our contracts say we are supposed to receive a certain percentage of the proceeds from the merchandise, and we should get what we’re owed; and 2) the way it was done was to intentionally keep the money from us by hiding it, and CBS should be punished for it.
Usually in a lawsuit that alleges a contract wasn’t honored, you can only ask for damages that will reimburse you for what you were owed according to the terms of the contract. Here, though, the actors are claiming that the conduct by CBS was so “despicable,” that there is another claim for additional damages to punish the bad behavior. They allege CBS committed a fraud in that they were in a position to know what merchandising deals there were, and what the revenues were from the deals, and CBS kept that information and resulting money.
While CBS does acknowledge that some money in merchandising sales is owed to the actors, the company says that it should be a just an ordinary contract case, and the fraud claim should not be allowed. But the actors don’t agree. They claim that CBS knowingly concealed the money that was owed to them.
It’s a pretty high hurdle to overcome for the claim of fraud to be successful. In most cases, where there is money owed under a contract, that amount is all you are entitled to get. In Illinois, for example, you need to show the conduct was more than just intentional. You would have to show that in addition to not being paid, there was
basically a plan to wrongfully deprive you of what you were owed.
For the Happy Days gang, perhaps they can support a claim that CBS had a duty to inform them of the merchandising revenue and purposely kept the information from them and/or misled them about the matter. Whatever the outcome of the case, one thing is clear, the matter will not be wrapped up neatly in a half hour.
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