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— NBC went to court last Friday against a Michigan minister the network says reneged on an agreement to sell it exclusive rights to a videotape of the Rancho Santa Fe cult members' final good-byes for $45,000. Instead, alleges NBC, the minister, who said he didn't know who sent him the tape, sold it to ABC, which raised the ante to $50,000 after NBC made its offer. In a declaration filed in the case, the minister's lawyer, who handled the transaction, maintains he never signed a final contract with NBC and claims that when told of the ABC deal, NBC's Tom Brokaw screamed at him over the phone, threatened to sue, and announced that he would make sure that the lawyer would "never work in the city of Detroit again," according to an account in the Detroit News. Brokaw later denied making any threats ... In its coverage of the cult, the tabloid New York Daily News lived up to its reputation for the nation's most memorable headlines: "THEY LET A NUT LEAD 'EM OUT OF THIS WORLD"; "WANNA-BE GOD HAD FEET OF CLAY"; "PASTORS: GOD NO SPACE CASE"; "FAREWELL MEAL: 39 POTPIES, 39 CHEESECAKES"; "NICE - BUT ODD - TRIO AT EATERY. WAITRESS RECALLS THANKS, GOOD TIPS."

Charlie's Angels

It seems everyone's trying to get a piece of last week's suicide cult action. New York publisher HarperCollins is rushing out 500,000 copies of an "instant" paperback about the Rancho Santa Fe deaths, to be written by a team of reporters from the New York Post. A news release says the gang from New York "will provide a portrait of the exclusive neighborhood that boasts among its residents the wealthy and famous alike - a neighborhood that shielded a deadly mystery behind its gates." Then there's Charles Manson, recently denied parole for another five years. The 62-year-old mass killer, serving out his life sentence at Corcoran, the high-security state prison in the southern San Joaquin Valley, about 170 miles north of Los Angeles, is allowed to have his own Web page, where he rants about current events. And during his parole hearing the day after last week's mass suicide he bragged to the board, "Those monks that just took their heads in San Diego? They're well behind the times."

DMV NEG

When he heard that state officials wouldn't let a San Francisco man get a vanity license plate with the words "HIV POS," San Diegan Bill Simpson traveled north to the city by the bay last week, where he displayed his own previously granted plate, "NEG HIV," at a news conference sponsored by AIDS-rights activists. Hours later, reports the San Francisco Examiner, the Department of Motor Vehicles fired off a letter advising Simpson that his plates had been officially yanked ... Senate investigators tracking Democratic fundraising irregularities are reported to have issued subpoenas to the local branch of Summa Ching Hai, a Vietnamese Buddhist sect whose members contributed $640,000 offered to Bill Clinton's legal defense fund. The cash was turned down after investigators hired by the fund traced the money to Taiwan but couldn't determine its ultimate source. The sect's other centers, in San Jose, Los Angeles, and Westminster, also got subpoenaed.

Cat in the money

Ring up yet another legal victory for Audrey Geisel in her never-ending battle to protect the literary copyrights of late husband Ted Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss, from the unruly hordes. Since Geisel's death three years ago, the La Jolla widow has been merchandising the rights to Seuss characters for everything from female boxer shorts to TV specials on Turner Network Television. But beware those who don't fork over multimillion-dollar rights fees. Latest example: Michael Viner and his Hollywood-based Dove Books, which last year put out an O.J. Simpson parody entitled The Cat NOT in the Hat. Geisel's lawyers at the downtown firm of Gray, Cary launched an immediate salvo against the project and convinced San Diego federal judge Napoleon Jones to block sales of the book. Now, the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has agreed, ruling that since the book ridiculed Simpson, not Seuss, it thus isn't entitled to the traditional "fair use" exemption to the copyright laws applying to parodies.

Contributor: Matt Potter

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