Sony Pictures Entertainment executives, local government officials and Gov. Schwarzenegger broke ground last week on a construction project on the studio's Culver City lot.


When completed, it will bring about 600 Sony employees now working in Westwood and elsewhere in Los Angeles back to the campus.


The project, which was approved earlier this year by the Culver City City Council, comes with cost estimates in the millions of dollars.


"In the 1990s we developed a long range plan for the lot, and this is the first specific step in that direction," said Sony spokesman Jim Kennedy. "We may add more (buildings) in the future, but with the space constraints of the lot it's now more a matter of renovating."


The project's main purpose is to consolidate Sony's office space.


The 125,000-square-foot Fourth Avenue building will be the new home of Sony Pictures Television and the 96,000-square-foot Culver building will serve as Sony Pictures Television International's headquarters. About 600 employees from the domestic and international television divisions will be moving into the offices. The architectural firm Gensler and the Georgetown Group are designing the buildings.


The project includes an employee commons that is approximately 44,500 square feet in size, as well as a new 1,000-vehicle parking lot, with preferred parking reserved for low-emission and fuel-efficient vehicles. Construction is to be completed by the summer of 2009.


More than 95 percent of all construction waste will be recycled and the project will include drought-tolerant plants to save water, low-flow toilets and waterless urinals, low energy bulbs to conserve electricity and an energy efficient power plant to reduce greenhouse gases.


Sony Pictures will also launch a pilot solar energy program with the installation of solar photovoltaic cells on the roof of the existing Jimmy Stewart Building.


The studio announced that it is making a contribution of $100,000 in funding and recycled equipment to Habitat for Humanity of Greater Los Angeles, in addition to donations of more than $130,000 worth of recycled material made to the charity since April.


Broader Overture

Alliance Films will be the exclusive distributor for Overture Films in Canada through 2010. A multiyear deal announced last week covers all rights to Overture's movies in Canada.


The Alliance partnership completes Overture's global distribution. The company now has domestic theatrical and home entertainment distribution in the U.S. via Anchor Bay Entertainment and a pay-TV output deal in the U.S. with Starz. An international distribution arrangement with Paramount Vantage International and Paramount International was finalized earlier this year.


Alliance Films currently handles distribution for Miramax Films, New Line, the Weinstein Co. and Focus Features. Launched in fall 2006, Overture is a unit of Starz, LLC, a Liberty Media Corp. subsidiary. Through its affiliates, Starz Home Entertainment and Starz Entertainment, Alliance provides exposure through cable television, home video and online channels.


Art Fraud

Online auctions have helped boost fine art sales, but the $2.3 million legal judgment won last month by a noted Japanese pop artist also highlighted some of the hazards involved.


Hajime Sorayama, known for his erotic and futuristic art, won the judgment last month including $1 million in punitive damages against Beverly Hills art publisher Robert Bane and his company, Robert Bane Ltd. Inc. Bane failed to account for the proceeds from sales of 33 original Sorayama paintings and illegal, cut-rate dumping of scores of reproductions.


For Sorayama, whose work includes a number of futuristic pin-up illustrations of women, it meant that once closely controlled limited edition reproductions of his paintings were being sold for $100 to $200 online, rather than the thousands of dollars they might have commanded.


"It can be a big problem for artists whose work is well known; you have to be very wary," said Bert Green, who owns an art gallery in downtown Los Angeles. "To willfully flood the market with reproductions is unconscionable, because it's incredibly damaging to the market, the artist and legitimate collectors of the work."


Sorayama, who designed the popular Aibo robotic dog for Sony Corp., and whose work is in the Smithsonian and New York's Museum of Modern Art, was tipped off along with his agent to the fraud after collectors complained through the artist's Web site. The artist discovered numerous online listings for Sorayama limited editions at up to 90 percent off the work's list price on eBay.


"It basically shot the market for Sorayama reproductions, because it's impossible to achieve sustained value and had a derivative effect on original market," said Paul Laurin of Weiner & Laurin LLP, the law firm representing Sorayama.


It was around 2002, after Bane's third exclusive publishing agreement with Sorayama expired (the first written deal was in 1994), that the bulk of the dumping took place. The market for Sorayama originals has recovered over the past six months, Laurin said, though the market for the limited-edition reproductions will take longer to come back.


Sneak Peek

Yahoo Inc.'s online TV channel is exclusively streaming the premiere episodes of the CW network's primetime series "Aliens in America" and "Life Is Wild" free and without commercial interruption before their first air dates.


The drama "Life Is Wild" will begin its network TV run on Oct. 7, but will be up on Yahoo TV beginning Sept. 29. The comedy "Aliens in America" began streaming last week, ahead of its October 1 premiere on the CW.


Staff reporter Anne Riley-Katz can be reached at ariley-katz@labusinessjournal.com or at (323) 549-5225, ext. 225.

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