Steve Harvey facing trial over unreleased comedy tapes

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Steve Harvey Could Go to Trial Against Former Colleague

As the host of Family Feud and an eponymous talk show, Steve Harvey is valuable presence in the world of syndicated television. He's also a comedian who is caught up in a legal dispute that appears headed to trial some time in the coming months. Should that happen, a jury could get a shot at putting an exact figure on Harvey's worth.

In the case currently playing out in a Texas federal court, Harvey is tangling with Joseph Cooper, who was hired back in 1993 to tape performances at Harvey's Dallas club. Cooper has retained about 120 hours of footage and claims ownership. Harvey counters that the material was shot for internal use and that Cooper has been attempting to extort him by telling others there's potentially embarrassing material on the tapes. At one point, according to court papers, Cooper wanted to sell the tapes back to Harvey for $5 million.

Last week, U.S. District Judge Jane Boyle got an opportunity to look at the claims and arguments. She released a summary judgment opinion (read here) that rejected two of Cooper's claims related to interference in the marketplace, but denied Harvey's bid to rule out a claim that the comedian breached contract. She also refused to award Harvey an injunction.

See photos of Steve Harvey throughout his career:

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Steve Harvey through the years
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Steve Harvey through the years
Steve Harvey arrives at the '6th Annual Soul Train Lady of Soul Awards', 9/2/00, at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in Santa Monica, Ca.
Steve Harvey during 'Original Kings of Comedy' Los Angeles Premiere at Paramount Theatre in Hollywood, California, United States. (Photo by SGranitz/WireImage)
6th February 2000: Headshot of American actor and comedian Steve Harvey at the American Comedy Awards, Shrine Exposition Center, Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Chris Bergman/Fotos International/Getty Images)
Steve Harvey won Outstanding Actor in a Comedy Series, Outstanding Comedy Series and Entertainer of the Year at the 32nd NAACP Image Awards at the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles, Ca. 3/3/01. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images).
Hosts Steve Harvey and Cedric 'The Entertainer' share a laugh during the 1st Annual BET Awards June 19, 2001 at the Paris Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by M. Caulfield/WireImage)
Steve Harvey & Wife during 'The Score' Los Angeles Premiere at Paramount Pictures in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by SGranitz/WireImage)
395834 03: Comedian Steve Harvey performs at The Comedy Garden October 13, 2001 at the Theatre at Madison Square Garden in New York City. (Photo by George De Sota/Getty Images)
Co-hosts Steve Harvey and Cedric 'The Entertainer' at the 2nd Annual BET Awards nominations press conference held at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood, California, May 14, 2002. (Photo by L. Cohen/WireImage)
Host Steve Harvey performs during a taping of BET's 2nd Annual Celebration of Gospel on January 26, 2002 at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles. The show is scheduled to air at 9PM EST on February 19, 2002 on the BET Network. (Photo by L. Cohen/WireImage)
Steve Harvey at the 15th Essence Awards held at the Universal Amphitheatre in Irvine, Ca., May 31, 2002. (photo by Kevin Winter/ImageDirect/Fox)
Host Steve Harvey during 2003 Essence Awards - Show at The Kodak Theater in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by M. Caulfield/WireImage for Essence Entertainment)
Steve Harvey presents. during The 17th Annual American Cinematheque Award Honoring Denzel Washington - Show and Backstage at Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, United States. (Photo by M. Caulfield/WireImage)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - JUNE 23: Comeidan Steve Harvey attends the 3rd Annual Black Entertainement Telelvision Awards, Smirnoff Ice Triple Black Lounge, where Distinctive Assets gave gifts to the artists and celebrites attending the event at the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel complex in Hollywood on June 23, 2003 Hollywood, California.(Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD - JULY 7: Actor Steve Harvey speaks at Earth, Wind & Fire's induction into the Hollywood RockWalk of Fame at Guitar Center July 7, 2003 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Robert Mora/Getty Images)
Steve Harvey during The Comedy Store Hosts Celebrity Fundraiser for the Heartfelt Foundation - Show at The Comedy Store in Hollywood, California, United States. (Photo by Michael Schwartz/WireImage)
Reba McEntire and Steve Harvey (Photo by KMazur/WireImage for The WB Network)
HOLLYWOOD - JUNE 29: Actor/Comedian Steve Harvey presents on stage at the 2004 Black Entertainment Awards held at the Kodak Theatre on June 29, 2004 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Steve Harvey, Lisa Leslie and Magic Johnson during Magic Johnson's 2004 Celebrity and All-Star Game at The Forum in Inglewood, California, United States. (Photo by Todd Williamson/Getty Images)
PASADENA, CA - SEPTEMBER 27: (L-R) Actor Tracee Ellis Ross and comedian Steve Harvey perform during the rehearsals for the first-ever BET Comedy Awards at the Pasadena Civic Center Auditorium on September 27, 2004 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
Mo'Nique and Steve Harvey during 6th Annual BET Awards - Backstage and Audience at Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by L. Cohen/WireImage)
NEW YORK - AUGUST 23: Actor Steve Harvey attends a ribbon cutting ceremony for the opening of J&R Express in Macy's Herald Square on August 23, 2006 in New York City. (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images)
Steve Harvey attends Lincoln After Dark at the Contemporary Arts Center on July 4, 2009 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Johnny Nunez/WireImage)
Brian McKnight and Steve Harvey attend Lincoln After Dark at the Contemporary Arts Center on July 4, 2009 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Johnny Nunez/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 17: Actor/comedian Steve Harvey speaks at the launch party for the new Steve Harvey Morning Show at The Conga Room at L.A. Live on August 17, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Dr. Billy Ingram/WireImage)
ATLANTA - AUGUST 21: Comedians Steve Harvey and Monique attend Carol's Daughter Atlanta store opening charity benefit for the Mary J. Blige and Steve Stoute Foundation For the Advancement of Women Now (FFAWN) at Lenox Square Mall on August 21, 2009 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images)
ATLANTA - NOVEMBER 10: Marjorie Harvey and comedian Steve Harvey attend the 2010 Soul Train Awards at the Cobb Energy Center on November 10, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Moses Robinson/Getty Images)
(L-R) Comedian Steve Harvey and Marjorie Harvey attend 'The Next R&b Star' Launch Party at Woodruff Arts Center on March 20, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Moses Robinson/WireImage)
ATLANTA, GA - MARCH 30: Actress LisaRaye McCoy (2nd-R) star of TV One reality show 'LisaRaye: The Real McCoy' and debuting the new season April 7 and new VH1 series 'Single Ladies' premiering June 6, stands with (L-R) Carla Ferrell, Steve Harvey, Shirley Strawberry and Thomas Miles during a photo opportunity on the set of the Steve Harvey Morning Show on March 30, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia. The segment will air on the radio on Wednesday, April 6 at 8:29am and will be televised on The Steve Harvey Project Tuesday, April 12, at 9:00pm on Centric. (Photo by Ben Rose/WireImage for TV One)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 04: Comedian Steve Harvey and Marjorie Harvey attend the 2nd annual Steve Harvey Foundation Gala at Cipriani, Wall Street on April 4, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for The Steve Harvey Foundation)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 04: Wynton Harvey, Karli Harvey, Morgan Harvey, Marjorie Harvey, comedian Steve Harvey, Lori Harvey, Brandi Harvey and Jason Harvey attend the 2nd annual Steve Harvey Foundation Gala at Cipriani, Wall Street on April 4, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for The Steve Harvey Foundation)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 26: Humanitarian Award Recipient Steve Harvey arrives at the BET Awards '11 held at the Shrine Auditorium on June 26, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)
NASHVILLE, TN - APRIL 09: Steve Harvey performs during the 2011 Comedy Gospel Tour at Bridgestone Arena on April 9, 2011 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Beth Gwinn/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - AUGUST 13: Host Steve Harvey speaks onstage during the ninth annual Ford Hoodie Awards at the Mandalay Bay Events Center August 13, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images for Hoodie Awards)
ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 11: (L-R) Susan L. Taylor, Steve Harvey and Marjorie Harvey attend The Steve & Marjorie Harvey Foundation Girls Who Rule The World Mid-Year Recap on September 11, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Moses Robinson/Getty Images for Steve and Marjorie Harvey Foundation)
ATLANTA, GA - FEBRUARY 12: Steve Harvey looks on during the game between the Miami Heat and the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on February 12, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 16: Host Steve Harvey speaks during BET's Celebration of Gospel at the Orpheum Theatre on March 16, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 03: (L-R) Steve Harvey and wife Marjorie Harvey attend Atlanta Premiere of 'Think Like a Man' at Regal Atlantic Station on April 3, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Moses Robinson/Getty Images)
LATE NIGHT WITH JIMMY FALLON -- Episode 617 -- Pictured: (l-r) Steve Harvey, Jimmy Fallon -- (Photo by: Lloyd Bishop/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 04: TV personality Steve Harvey and wife Marjorie Harvey attend the 'Think Like a Man' screening at the AMC Empire 25 theater on April 4, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Bennett Raglin/WireImage)
LAS VEGAS, NV - AUGUST 04: TV /Radio personality Steve Harvey and wife Marjorie Harvey walk the blue carpet at the 10th Annual Ford Hoodie Awards at MGM Garden Arena on August 4, 2012 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Marcel Thomas/FilmMagic)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - MAY 13: Comedian Steve Harvey Honored With Star On The Hollywood Walk Of Fame on May 13, 2013 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Jonathan Leibson/WireImage)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - MAY 13: Samuel L. Jackson (L) and Steve Harvey attend the ceremony honoring Steve Harvey with a Star on The Hollywood Walk of Fame held on May 13, 2013 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Michael Tran/FilmMagic)
THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON -- Episode 0016 -- Pictured: (l-r) Steve Harvey during an interview with host Jimmy Fallon on March 10, 2014 -- (Photo by: Lloyd Bishop/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: Steve Harvey appears on NBC News' 'Today' show -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
THE STEVE HARVEY SHOW-- Episode 2148 -- Pictured: (l-r) Susan Lucci, Steve Harvey -- (Photo by: Elizabeth Sisson/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THE STEVE HARVEY SHOW -- Episode 2146 -- Pictured: Steve Harvey and 'Men of the Strip' dancers -- (Photo by: Elizabeth Sisson/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THE VIEW - Thomas Roberts guest co-hosts; Steve Harvey and Marcia Gay Harden are guests today, Monday, March 10, 2014 on ABC's 'The View.' 'The View' airs Monday-Friday (11:00 am-12:00 pm, ET) on the ABC Television Network. (Photo by Lou Rocco/ABC via Getty Images) STEVE HARVEY, SHERRI SHEPHERD, WHOOPI GOLDBERG
ATLANTA, GA - AUGUST 09: Steve Harvey attends the 2014 Ford Neighborhood Awards Hosted By Steve Harvey at the Phillips Arena on August 9, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Moses Robinson/Getty Images for Ford Neighborhood Awards)
ATLANTA, GA - AUGUST 09: Steve Harvey and Marjorie Harvey attend the 2014 Ford Neighborhood Awards at Philips Arena on August 9, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Prince Williams/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 09: Charissa Thompson (L) interviews Steve Harvey during his visit to 'Extra' at their New York studios at H&M in Times Square on February 9, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by D Dipasupil/Getty Images for Extra)
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Harvey argued that he never signed an agreement, and that even if he did, the language in the document did not grant Cooper rights to commercially exploit the tapes.

The allegedly valid contract has Steve Harvey's name on it and states that Cooper "reserves the right to use the original tape and/or reproductions for display, publication or other purposes." At Cooper's deposition, however, the plaintiff conceded that "he has never negotiated a contract where someone gave him their copyrightable works."

Boyle says that the contract is ambiguous, priming the way for a trial on these contested issues of fact. There's also the subject of whether Harvey violated the deal by demanding that YouTube remove videos and by getting in the way of a distribution deal with Musical Video Distributors, Inc., which is also something a jury would have to figure out when clearing up whether Harvey conveyed rights to Cooper.

However, because Cooper had no actual contract with MVD, Boyle rules Harvey couldn't have committed tortious interference with contractual relations. Cooper may have had a prospective business relationship, but Boyle rules that Cooper hasn't sufficiently demonstrated that Harvey's conduct was the proximate cause of any actual loss. An executive at the distribution company was hesitant about making a deal with Cooper notwithstanding alleged interference. Plus, Harvey believed he had legal rights, and the judge accepts the comedian's defensive position that he was justified in contacting MVD.

The judge has now told both sides to come up with a trial date no later than January 30, 2017. At the coming proceeding, both sides could present a financial look at the worth of Harvey's fame in an effort to win damages.

Cooper has retained an economist, Dr. Michael Einhorn, who examined how Harvey's Still Trippin', released in 2008, and other comedy videos performed in the marketplace. He was primarily concerned with lost sales and estimated that Cooper lost the opportunity to earn in the area of $2.67 million.

In turn, Harvey's accountant Scott Barnes wrote in his own report that such an opinion was speculative and erroneously derived, particularly because a 2008 performance was superior to a 1993 performance in immediacy, production quality and relevant subject matter. Barnes also examined the worth of Harvey's name and likeness. If Cooper doesn't have rights, the plaintiff could be in trouble because Harvey has asserted counterclaims over Cooper's use of the comedian in internet advertisements. Barnes' report pegs a reasonable compensation for use of Harvey's services at $350,000.

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