Television personality Bill Nye testified Tuesday that he never contemplated that the term “video device” included streaming services when he signed a 1993 agreement with Walt Disney Co. subsidiary Buena Vista Television to deliver episodes for “Bill Nye the Science Guy.”
Nye, 65, told Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David Cowan that he believed at the time that video devices applied only to video cassettes and laser discs, the latter of which he said did not remain popular for long because of their analog technology. But in both cases, the devices were manufactured, Nye said.
“I believe the key word is `manufacture,”’ Nye testified. “To use the word `manufacture’ to represent a streaming device to me is illogical.”
Nye filed the lawsuit in August 2017. The television series originally ran from 1992 to 1997 on PBS, and is still streamed on services such as Netflix.
Nye’s lawyer, A. Raymond Hamrick III, is using the testimony of experts to interpret the 1993 contract regarding its alleged inapplicability with modern digital rentals and with subscription services such as Netflix. Hamrick and Nye maintain the streaming services are not video devices because they did not exist at the time and had no associated manufacturing costs.
But defense attorney Lucia Coyoca argues in her court papers that a video device is broadly defined to include any device “embodying the series” that is similar to traditional physical home video. She further maintains the process involved in creating and delivering the digital file in conformance with the technical specifications of each of the platforms that license the series establish that they are in fact manufactured.
The distinction is important because if streaming services are found to be video devices, Nye and other owners of the show would only be entitled to 10% of the revenues. If the streaming revenues are not found to be video devices, then Buena Vista should be splitting the profits 50-50 with Nye and the other show owners, according to Nye’s court papers.
The judge will decide after the hearing whether a jury is needed to decide some of the disputes in the case or if he will hold a non-jury trial on the accounting issues.
Nye testified that prior to coming to television, he worked as an electrical engineer. He said he and the co-creator of the show created a pilot in 1992 and that the program was originally produced in a small building in Seattle.
Asked by one of his lawyers, Charles C. Rainey, if he thought at the time of the 1993 contract that a streaming file could one day be uploaded onto the Internet, Nye replied, “Absolutely not, no.”
Nye also said he never imagined back then that the show would one day be on a service such as Netflix, but that the he did foresee the possibility of Netflix carrying it once the platform was created.
Nye said he believed he others behind the show held up their end of the bargain.
“We agreed to do a high-quality show that would stand the test of time,” Nye said.