Court rules against Sharapova in documentary suit

MIAMI -- A federal judge ruled against tennis star Maria
Sharapova on Wednesday, saying a Florida production company was
entitled to market a documentary on her despite her agents'
attempts to halt distribution.

U.S. District Judge Donald Middlebrooks said Byzantium
Productions Inc. was lawful in its production of two films,
"Anna's Army" and "Russian Women's Tennis." The documentaries
did not violate trademark laws, the judge found.

Jonathan Koch, a Tampa attorney representing Sharapova, said he
initially believed there was potential for confusion among
consumers that the films were official documentaries. As the
litigation progressed, though, he said he changed his mind.

"As we investigated and as the controversy developed we
concluded that the commercial significance of the matter did not
justify being involved in a lawsuit," Koch said.

The decision means Byzantium, a two-man operation in West Palm
Beach, can move forward with plans to distribute its work in Japan
and elsewhere, though the filmmakers said the damage had already
been done.

"We're thrilled to have this all over with. It's been a long
battle -- they destroyed our business," said Peter Geisler, the
company's vice president. "This should allow distribution to
continue, but my guess is that it's most likely too late."

In addition to footage of Sharapova, the films include
interviews with Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean King, Chris Evert
and others.

IMG, the agency that represents Sharapova and her company, SW19
Inc., had said Byzantium illegally used the tennis player's
identity and infringed on her company's trademark and legal rights,
among other claims. The agency threatened legal action.

Martin Reeder, a Jupiter, Fla.-based attorney for Byzantium,
said those threats kept the film from further distribution.

"It's still sitting in warehouses," he said.

Sharapova was the first Russian to win the Wimbledon title. She
was born in Russia but now lives in Florida.