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Dog training film sparks lawsuit

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  • Melanie Jula Sakoda
    Title: Dog training film sparks lawsuit Author: Robert Gavin Date Published: 7/4/2008 Publication: Albany Times Union (Albany NY) Links:
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 4 3:56 PM
      Title: Dog training film sparks lawsuit

      Author: Robert Gavin

      Date Published: 7/4/2008

      Publication: Albany Times Union (Albany NY)





      Monks at Washington County's New Skete community say filmmaker owes
      them money from 1996 release

      ALBANY -- For 42 years, the monks of New Skete Monastery have laid
      claim to a mountaintop in Washington County's highlands, practicing
      their Orthodox Church faith with prayers, work and study.

      For most of that time, they've also raised German shepherds.

      In 1994, that calling drew the eye of an independent California
      director who spent a year filming a series on the pooch training.

      But 14 years later, the monks say they're still waiting for their
      share of agreed-upon royalties -- and they're taking a lawsuit
      against the director to U.S. District Court in Albany on Monday.

      The series, "Raising Your Dogs With the Monks of New Skete," hit the
      market in 1996. In court papers, the monks say director Matthew
      Murray sold a "great number of copies of the training series," yet
      only forked over an initial $5,000 advance.

      They contend a 1994 agreement, which Murray prepared, shows they
      agreed to provide "instruction and informative discourse on the
      subject of canine training." In return, the lawsuit stated, Murray
      received rights to produce, distribute and broadcast the canine
      training film.

      The monks say they were entitled to at least 20 percent of the film's
      net profits, once the initial investment and applicable costs were
      recovered. Their lawsuit, first filed in Washington County, is now in
      federal court before U.S. District Judge Gary Sharpe.

      While Murray had plans for two additional works on the monks, they
      want him to cease those plans and turn over any materials such as
      videotape and film stock. They did not cite a specific amount they
      seek, saying they don't have access to Murray's books.

      Brother Luke Dorr, the monastery's leader, declined comment Thursday,
      citing the ongoing litigation.

      The suit names Murray, a 47-year-old native of Montoursville, Pa., as
      well as his Los Angeles-based company, Atmosphere Entertainment. Both
      Murray and his Albany-based attorney, Joseph Stinson, declined to
      discuss the litigation Thursday.

      Murray argues in court papers that despite "substantial and ongoing
      efforts to promote sales of the video for more than a decade, the
      rate of total sales to date have been disappointing and the initial
      investment and applicable costs of the project have not been

      It continued, "The project has not realized any net profits."

      Among other points, Murray contends he gave the monks hundreds of
      copies of the tapes, which they sold for $19,000, keeping all
      profits. They were also given 5,500 names and addresses of customers
      who bought the tape from Murray's Web site, he argues.

      He's filed several counterclaims against the monks -- four of which
      are for $2 million -- that include allegations they defamed him
      with "false and misleading" statements.

      Initially based in northwestern Pennsylvania, the monks arrived atop
      the hillside in White Creek in 1966 and have remained, a Christian
      group within the Orthodox Church. They're one of three New Skete
      communities; the Nuns of New Skete formed in 1969, while the
      Companions of New Skete, which includes married couples, was formed
      in 1983, according to the monastery's Web site.

      New Skete's German shepherd training dates back 35 years years, the
      Web site explained. It said all the dogs live in the monastery "with
      each monk responsible for the training and care of a female or male

      "The excellence in temperament, personality and structure for which
      our German Shepherds are known is the result of carefully researched
      and selected bloodlines and the all-important early handling we give
      our puppies from the day they are born until they leave us between 8
      and 10 weeks of age," the site stated. "All of our German Shepherds
      live right in our monastery."

      In 1999, the Times Union reported that the New Skete community
      supports itself by breeding German Shepherd dogs and boarding and
      training of all breeds. It stated they also make dog beds, T-shirts,
      gourmet cheesecakes, biscotti and dog biscuits, not to mention
      liturgical works of art sold in the monks' gift shop. Gavin can be
      reached at 434-2403 or by e-mail at rgavin@ timesunion.com.
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