Disney can be sued by Bill Nye 'The Science Guy' judge rules

Television host is claiming $28M in damages from withheld profits

Bill Nye the Science Guy is about to become the legal guy.

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Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Dalila Lyons granted Nye the ability to take The Walt Disney Company to court with limited claims. Nye is seeking $28 million in damages and accuses Disney of under-reporting or withholding his share of profits from his 1990s syndicated series, “Bill Nye, the Science Guy.”

Disney had attempted to lower the case’s standing to “an accounting spectacle.” Still, the judge put limits on the claims against Disney which did not sit well with Nye's lawyers.

“While we are disappointed with the Court’s ruling yesterday and the flawed legal reasoning upon which it relied, we welcome the opportunity to litigate the remainder of our clients’ case at trial and finally recover the damages Mr. Nye and his fellow producers are entitled to, including an award of punitive damages," Nye's lawyers from Hamrick & Evans said in a statement given to FOX Business, "More importantly, it is our hope that this case, which Disney has fought so hard to stall, will finally shine some light upon the improper accounting practices that Disney utilizes to unjustly deprive profit participants, like our clients, of their fair share of revenues from the programing that they work so hard to create.”

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According to the lawsuit, originally filed in 2017, Disney television subsidiary Buena Vista entered into an agreement with Bill Nye and other owners of “Bill Nye the Science Guy” in March of 1993 to sell his children’s education series to local stations  Terms of the deal called for the show’s owners to collect half of the net profits derived from the sales and distribution of the show to local stations, with Nye entitled to 33 percent of that half, or 16.5 percent of the total net profit. “Bill Nye the Science Guy” was originally produced by Seattle public TV station KCTS for PBS stations.

Between 1993 and 1998, 100 episodes were produced.

In April of 2008, Buena Vista sent Nye a statement along with a payment of $585,123. However, three months later the company sent Nye another letter retracting the April statement due to an “accounting error.” Nye was also informed that he owed Buena Vista $496,111 and that he would not receive any further royalty payments until the money was remitted.

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In the complaint, Nye says his attempts to negotiate with Buena Vista and Disney over the statements lasted four years before he was forced to hire “a professional auditor to examine Buena Vista’s records.” Nye claims that Disney dodged the audit for several years before cooperating in May of 2016, but Disney did still not comply completely holding back several documents.

". . . it is our hope that this case, which Disney has fought so hard to stall, will finally shine some light upon the improper accounting practices that Disney utilizes to unjustly deprive profit participants, like our clients, of their fair share of revenues from the programing that they work so hard to create.”

- Statement from the law firm of Hamrick & Evans, LLP., which represents Bill Nye

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Despite this limited access, the auditor provided Nye with preliminary findings that identified underreported royalty payments owed to Nye in excess of $9 million. Eventually, he filed his lawsuit seeking not only his original profits owed but compensatory and punitive damages as well as attorney’s fees.

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Ironically, while Nye was fighting for his original profits, Disney was selling a select 31 episodes of “Bill Nye the Science Guy” to Netflix. Even in that deal though, Disney downplayed the potential profits in a streaming sale and did not make all 100 episodes available to Netflix.

"It was a financial consideration,” a Disney spokesperson told Indiewire. “This sale isn’t super lucrative, so it doesn’t make sense to do all of them.”

According to the complaint, the Netflix sale was a “further breach” of Nye’s agreement because Disney could pay Nye less for sales via  "video device," which were then defined as audio/visual cassettes, video discs or any similar devices playing the program. Disney classified Netflix as a “video device” instead of a video service or channel, so the gross revenue was calculated at just 20 percent instead of 100 percent, which resulted in a payment to Nye about one-fifth of what he was owed, according to the lawsuit.

In 2017, Nye – without Disney – launched a series on Netflix called “Bill Nye Saves the World." This series looked at science and its relationship with politics, pop culture, and society. After streaming 25 episodes over 13 months, Netflix opted not to renew the show in the spring of 2018.

Disney recently launched its own streaming service Diseny+  but currently, despite ownership of the "Science Guy" series. Disney is not offering the program on the service.

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