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Penthouse publishers battle over UK rights

Legal warfare has broken out between the British publishers of the top-shelf magazine Penthouse and the owners of the American version led by Bob Guccione, after the US company started importing its own editions into Britain.

Richard Desmond's Northern & Shell, publisher of the UK Penthouse, sought an emergency injunction last week against Mr Guccione's Penthouse Publications and Conde Nast, the American's UK distributor.

The High Court judge declined to make the order immediately and ordered a further hearing, a date for which remains to be set.

Mr Guccione's move into the UK comes as he plans to float his publishing company, General Media International, next year.

Mr Guccione said last week that Penthouse was a global brand, and that he wanted to attract investors in Europe and the Far East as well as the US for his float.

The company includes a number of car and science magazines, and is planning to make further acquisitions.

Northern & Shell said yesterday: 'The importation of the North American edition of Penthouse and the four US Penthouse titles is a direct breach of its agreement with Penthouse Publications (Mr Guccione's company).

'Northern & Shell will seek to protect its rights through the Courts with the utmost vigour.'

The judge ruled that Mr Desmond's company had made out a prima facie case for an injunction in relation to the North American editions. He said that evidence had been laid before him of the risk of irreparable damage being caused to Northern & Shell, and that there might be a risk to the company of 'considerable unquantifiable losses.'

Mr Desmond is also in dispute with David Elias, owner of Richbell, over an aborted joint publishing project that involved Northern & Shell producing 32 new magazines to be sold through Richbell's petrol station outlets. Each man is now suing the other for damages.