1709 Blog: for all the copyright community

Friday, 10 February 2012

Jersey Boys claim has limited appeal

Rex Woodard was the co-author of a biography of Four Seasons member Thomas Gaetano DeVito, jointly created with the musician, and based on a series of interviews and discussions between the pair over a number of years. The pair agreed to be co-authors and share in any profits. Woodard died in 1991 and subsequently DeVito registered the Work at the US Copyright Office, in his name alone. He subsequently granted defendants Frankie Valli and Robert Gaudio (also both Four Season’s members) an irrevocable, exclusive, perpetual, worldwide and assignable licence to freely use the Work and Gaudio and Valli further sub-licensed these rights, which allowed the Work to subsequently form the basis for the screenplay of the hugely successful ‘Jersey Boys’ musical. After the play was first staged in 2005, Woodward’s widow, Donna Corbello, learned of the link in 2007 and amended the US copyright registration in 2009 to include Woodard and brought a claim in the District Court of Nevada against DeVito and the other defendants including Valli, Gaudio and the show’s producers and directors for copyright infringement. DeVito and the other defendants argued that the claim was barred by applicable statute of limitations and that foreign copyright claims could not apply to the claim. Whilst the court found that the action was not time barred (as Corbello only learned of the infringements on 2007) and the court also dismissed claims about a lack of personal jurisdiction, it agreed on the matter of foreign copyright claims and that only US copyright law could apply and in the case of the claim against Jersey Boys Record Limited concerning the release of a ‘Cast Album’ of sound recordings from the Broadway show the court found that this was not substantially similar to the Work to infringe. But most importantly the court said that whilst Woodward was co-author of the Work, DeVito’s assignment of rights to Valli and Gaudio and the onward licence to the show’s producers were valid as they pre-dated the plaintiff’s copyright claim and the court granted partial summary judgment in favour of all defendants save DeVito, meaning Corbello’s claim could proceed to trial, but was now solely against Woodward’s co-author DeVito.

Corbello v DeVito el al 2:08-cv-00867-RCJ-PAL

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