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First "Paladin' now has justice, will travel

Published Sep. 25, 1991|Updated Oct. 14, 2005

Victor DeCosta savored a cigar and what he says is a long-awaited taste of justice Monday after a federal jury awarded him $3.5-million from the company that has distributed Have Gun Will Travel reruns in defiance of his registered mark. "This is it: Justice for all," said DeCosta, 83, of Scituate.

For decades, DeCosta has claimed that the gunslinger in the TV series was pirated from the cowboy character he invented in the 1940s and portrayed at rodeos, horse shows and charitable functions around the country.

The jury vindicated DeCosta by deciding that Viacom International, a CBS subsidiary, had syndicated reruns of the television series in violation of his registered mark. Viacom must pay DeCosta $1-million to compensate him for his loss and $2.5-million in punitive damages, the jury ruled.

"What good is a federal registration if somebody can steal it, use it and not pay you nothing for it?" DeCosta said after the verdict.

Jan Uhrbach, an attorney for Viacom, the syndicator, said, "Obviously, we're very disappointed in the verdict, and we plan to appeal. We think there should have been no liability, and (the damages) are way out of line."

The Paladin character was born in 1946, when DeCosta, a Rhode Islander who spent his youth as a genuine cowboy in Texas, was riding a black stallion and some Italian immigrants dubbed him Paladino, champion of knights.

In 1957, CBS first aired the old Western Have Gun Will Travel, which featured a black-clad cowboy resembling DeCosta's Paladin.

In 1966, DeCosta, charging CBS stole his character, was awarded $2-million in federal court. But he lost on appeal in the 1st Circuit Court because he had not registered his calling cards with the federal government to preserve his rights.

Since 1977 and despite CBS's vigorous opposition, however, DeCosta has held a federal registration for the card bearing the phrases, "Have Gun Will Travel, Wire Paladin, San Francisco," and an image of a knight chess piece.

This time, DeCosta is confident that his victory will endure appeals.

"I am positive this will stick," he said, noting that when he lost the appeal to CBS he did not have a federal registration.

Since 1970, Viacom has been distributing reruns of the series, which it says brought in $800,000 but cost $927,000 to syndicate.

Nonetheless, the company does not want U.S. District Judge Ernest C. Torres to grant DeCosta's request at a hearing Friday to prohibit the company from syndicating any more episodes.

"It has not been profitable _ that's what the evidence showed," Uhrbach said. But "it's a good show that the public should be able to see."

Richard Petrocelli, who along with Mark Hagopian represented DeCosta, said Torres also has the option of tripling the $1-million in damages because the jury decided the company's breach was intentional.

DeCosta's victory comes after Richard Boone, the actor who played Paladin on TV, and others associated with the show, have long since died. Boone died in 1981.

After spending most of his savings on court battles, DeCosta said he plans to visit friends in California and Montana "and enjoy life a little bit."


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