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Warner Bros. alleges ‘illicit conspiracy’ in ‘South Park’ lawsuit: Paramount’s ‘f**k you money’ blew up contract

Warner Paramount South Park Lawsuit

“South Park” creators Matt Stone, left, and Trey Parker discuss the “South Park: The Fractured But Whole” video game onstage at Ubisoft’s E3 2015 Conference at the Orpheum Theatre on June 15, 2015, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File)

The creators of “South Park” reneged on a more than half-billion-dollar deal with HBO and its parent company to sign an even more lucrative deal with Paramount to become a marquee offering of its streaming service, a lawsuit that Warner Bros. filed in Manhattan alleges.

HBO Max, whose parent company is plaintiff WarnerMedia Direct, says it outbid numerous competitors to sign a contract with South Park Digital Studios (SPDS) in 2019.

Warner Bros. claims that this more than $500 million deal, announced to great fanfare on Comedy Central’s website, gave them exclusive streaming rights to the series’ entire library, plus three new seasons.

Then, the company claims, Paramount hatched a plan to lure the “South Park” franchise to its new streaming service—and sidestep the show’s contractual obligations through a “campaign of verbal trickery.”

“To accomplish this, Defendants used grammatical sleight-of-hand, characterizing new content as ‘movies,’ ‘films,’ or ‘events’ to side-step SPDS’s contractual obligations,” the lawsuit states.

The defendants are Paramount Global, South Park Digital Studios, and MTV Entertainment Studios.

By 2021, HBO says, “South Park” delivered none of the 22-minute episodes for season 24 that were promised under the agreement. Paramount announced the launch of its streaming service early that same year.

Less than six months after the launch of Paramount+, an executive discussed a plan “to help fuel” the platform through “South Park” and said “[f]ranchising marquee content like South Park… is at the heart of [their] strategy to continue growing Paramount+,” according to the lawsuit.

Warner Bros. says that Paramount’s indirect subsidiary MTV announced a deal with “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone on Aug. 21, 2021.

“As Stone publicly described it, ‘we have f—k you money now,'” the lawsuit states.

For Warner Bros., the deal hinged upon a rhetorical slight of hand to distinguish Paramount’s content from HBO’s exclusive.

“Specifically, MTV publicly announced that, under the Paramount+ deal, 14 ‘made-for-streaming movies’ (as opposed to ‘episodes’ or ‘events’) would premiere on Paramount+, starting with two ‘films’ in 2021,” the lawsuit alleges.

But Warner Bros. claims that those “films” were “substantially similar” to the “Pandemic Specials” provided to HBO as licensed content.

“All four episodes featured the iconic characters from the prior 23 seasons of South Park, addressed similar subject matter (COVID), and had similar running times (approximately 50-60 minutes per episode),” the lawsuit says.

“Incredibly, this was not Defendants’ only duplicity with respect to the Post-COVID Content,” it continues. “When MTV and Paramount+ announced the Post-COVID Content, they had initially characterized the episodes as ‘movies.’ However, when WB pointed out that exploitation of movie sequels to South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut required WB’s written consent under the 1998 Agreement, MTV, on information and belief, in coordination with Paramount and SPDS, changed its characterization of the Post-COVID Content from ‘movies’ to ‘events.'”

Those included “supersized” Pandemic Specials titled “The Streaming Wars Part 1” and “The Streaming Wars Part 2.”

Warner Bros. demands more than $200 million in damages for five causes of actions related to alleged breach of contract.

Paramount did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.

Read the lawsuit below:

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."