• The family of Oscar-winning art director Joseph Wright is being sued for selling off his statuette. (AAP)
The family of an Oscar-winning art director is being sued for selling off his 1942 statuette.
3 Jul 2014 - 5:35 AM  UPDATED 24 Feb 2015 - 10:28 AM

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is suing the family of an Oscar-winning US filmmaker for allegedly selling his golden statuette in breach of contract.

The Oscar-awarding Academy says the family of art director Joseph Wright, who won the coveted award for the 1942 film My Gal Sal, auctioned it off for $US79,200 ($A85,700) last month.

Under a contract that all Oscar recipients sign with the Academy, the prestigious body says it has the right of first refusal for the sale of any of its statuettes, at a guaranteed cost of $US10.

"The Academy has never intended that the 'Oscar' be treated as an article of trade," said a lawsuit filed Monday in Los Angeles, and published by the Hollywood Reporter.

Wright died in 1985, and the Academy claims that Wright's family entered into an agreement with Briarbrook auction house in Rhode Island to sell the Oscar, a sale which it says took place on June 24.

On June 23 the Academy learned about the planned sale, and tried to communicate by email and telephone with the auctioneers.

"After a number of calls originating from the Academy's landline number went unanswered, the Academy's counsel called Briarbrook from a cellphone without the Academy's called identification," says the lawsuit.

"A woman at Briarbrook answered the call, but hung up when she was informed that the caller was from the Academy. Subsequent calls went straight to voicemail," said the lawsuit.

It is not the first time the Academy has taken legal action over the sale of Oscar statuettes.

In 2012, the Academy tried but failed to block a Los Angeles auction house from selling a collection of 15 of Oscars for than $US3 million.