Widow of Lawyer/Journalist Challenges Origin of 'Jersey Boys' in Texas Case

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Widow of Lawyer/Journalist Challenges Origin of 'Jersey Boys' in Texas Case

Wed Jan 02, 2008 @ 10:51AM PST

Posted by Eriq Gardner

Jersey_boys Few Broadway musicals in the past decade have done as well as "Jersey Boys," the story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. An interesting lawsuit filed in Texas District Court challenges the origins of this production.

Donna Corbello filed the suit against Thomas DeVito, former lead guitarist of The Four Seasons and the principal who brought "Jersey Boys" to the stage. Corbello is the widow of a deceased Texas lawyer/journalist named Rex Conrad Woodard. According to the complaint, Woodward and DeVito came to an agreement in the 1980s to develop the authorized biography of The Four Seasons, executed by a signed letter by both parties in 1988.

Woodward died in 1991 without having found a publisher. He never registered the copyright. According to the complaint, DeVito alone registered the copyright on January 11, 1991, "a date on which Mr. Woodward's health was in steep decline."

The complaint goes on to quote interviews that suggest "that the writers of Jersey Boys had obtained access to [Woodward's] Work; that the Work had inspired the form, structure, and content of the musical."

Corbello says that "Jersey Boys" grosses more than $1 million per week on Broadway alone, and that the present value of DeVito's anticipated long-term revenue stream likely exceeds $10 million. In the lawsuit, Corbello demands half of that, or $5 million.

The case may be interesting to watch to see how Woodward's duel role as lawyer and journalist is handled, how the court treats the declaration of copyright ownership, and the circumstances that require producers to license works of inspiration.

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The Hollywood Reporter, Esq. blog focuses on how the entertainment and media industries are impacted and influenced by the law. It is edited by Matthew Belloni with contributions from veteran legal reporter Eriq Gardner and others. Before joining The Hollywood Reporter, Belloni was a lawyer at an entertainment litigation firm in Los Angeles. He writes a column for THR devoted to entertainment law. Gardner is a New York-based writer and legal journalist. Send tips or comments to Matthew.Belloni@thr.com

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