Writers are inspired by many different aspects of life. Often, this inspiration is nothing more than the facts of historical events or a person’s life. Because of the potential sources of inspiration, many people in California and other areas of the country who create a successful production, for example, are sometimes forced to defend their decisions through litigation. The creators of a hit musical, “Jersey Boys,” have recently successfully argued that a verdict against them in a copyright infringement lawsuit should be overturned.
The plaintiff in the case claims that her husband worked with Tommy DeVito — one of the founders of the Four Seasons upon which the play is based — to create a book based on DeVito’s life. Her lawsuit claims that the use of the unpublished book violated its copyright. The woman argued that the creators of the musical struggled to create their script until DeVito provided them with a copy of the book. A jury initially agreed with her claims, determining that the writers, producers and director — among others connected to the play — violated the book’s copyright; 10 percent of the musical’s success, according to the jurors, is attributable to the copyright infringement.
However, a judge has recently overturned that verdict. He argued that — at most — the juror could have found 145 words of the almost 68,500-word musical the same as the written work. This similarity — accounting for less than 1 percent of words in the work — is insufficient for a finding of copyright infringement, according to the judge. Additionally, he claims “the heart” of the work is unprotected facts that cannot be copyrighted. The judge also explained that the way the play creators transformed the information in the book and its ultimate purpose to entertain, rather than inform, means the play is within the boundaries set by the fair-use doctrine.
Often those who create plays and other forms of entertainment are forced to either protect their creation from unlawful use of others or argue that they did not violate another creator’s copyright. Regardless of the nature of a copyright infringement lawsuit, many people in California are unsure of their rights. Fortunately, an attorney with experience with such cases can help them understand their options and pursue the most appropriate course of action, potentially including litigation.
Source: courthousenews.com, “Judge Overturns ‘Jersey Boys’ Copyright Verdict“, Kent Lauer, June 15, 2017