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Copyright and Theatre



Recently the creators of Jersey Boys (a popular show that has been running on Broadway since 2005 and the West End since 2008) have been found guilty of copyright infringement. A federal court in Nevada ruled that approximately 10% of the show can be linked back to text from an autobiography written by Tommy DeVito (a former member of the band) that was never published.

According to Forbes, Tommy DeVito teamed up with author Rex Woodford to write his autobiography. Rex was diagnosed with terminal cancer in December of 1990 and DeVito submitted the book under copyright SOLEY IN HIS NAME in January 1991! Flash forward to Jersey Boys-mania, and Rex’s widow figures there might be some interest in the book. She looks into getting to published only to find that her husband has been cut out of the creative rights. She sues and gets her husband added as a co-author, then goes after the creators of Jersey Boys for developing a derivative work without her permission.

So many questions!!

What happens now?

The Jersey Boys creators pulled direct wording from the text which is blatantly copyright infringement, but where is the line in terms of being inspired either by real-life events or other text?

Does the show close?

Apparently the trial will now progress into awarding damages… who will those damages go to?

To recap – the lawsuit was filed by the widow of Rex Woodford. He died before it was published… so will his widow get money as the surviving family? She didn’t contribute creatively to the project, so should she benefit financially from it? Would the reparations be proportionate to what Jersey Boys has made (maybe 10% of the creator’s deal since that’s about how much they borrowed)? Or will they just add DeVito and Woodford’s name to the publicity info as co-creators?


At any rate, the West End show is closing in March and the New York show is closing in January.

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