Ghost Writer Heir Haunts Jersey Boys Collaborators

Lawyer, journalist and “Four Seasons” fan Rex Woodard and Thomas DeVito, an original band member, entered into a written agreement for Woodard to ghostwrite DeVito’s autobiography (the Work).  Woodard and DeVito agreed to split the proceeds from publishing and exploiting the Work.  Woodard died in 1991, after completing the Work, but before publication.  DeVito registered the Work under his name four months before Woodard’s death.  The Work was never published.

A convoluted series of agreements and events followed.  Ultimately, the musical “Jersey Boys” incorporated some portion of the Work.  Donna Corbello, Woodard’s widow and heir, sued DeVito, band members Frankie Valli and Robert Gaudio and the writers, directors and producers of the “Jersey Boys” for a variety of claims, including copyright infringement.  Corbello argued that “she, as legatee of Woodward’s joint copyright in the Work, deserves to share in the profits reaped by the various Appellees’ licensing and assignment, or infringement, as the case may be, of the underlying rights.” (Opinion pdf page 8).  The district court ruled against Corbello on all issues and taxed costs against her.

The Ninth Circuit framed the issue:  “We must decide whether a contractual grant of the exclusive right to use an individual’s ‘biographies’ to create a Broadway musical stage play also constitutes a transfer of a copyright ownership interest in that individual’s unpublished autobiography.”  (Opinion pdf page 5).

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Copyright Office Aspires to Bring Major Changes to the Music Marketplace

Earlier this month, the U.S Copyright Office issued Copyright and The Music Marketplace, a Report of the Register of Copyrights.  The report is 245 pages.  It is based the Copyright Office’s yearlong study of the existing music marketplace.  The report addresses the music licensing landscape, the challenges of the current system, provides analysis and makes recommendations.  Recapping the entire report goes beyond the volume of information I want to cover in a single post.  This post highlights a few points the report makes about streaming.  As a caveat to focusing on one topic, the report states

In this report, after reviewing the existing framework and stakeholders’ views, the Copyright Office offers a series of guiding principles and preliminary recommendations for change. The Office’s proposals are meant to be contemplated together, rather than individually. With this approach, the Office seeks to present a series of balanced tradeoffs among the interested parties to create a fairer, more efficient, and more rational system for all.

(pdf page 10).

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Gossip Cop Can’t Bag An Easy Dismissal With Fair Use Claims

Gossip Cop makes it its business to provide celebrity gossip news.  BWP Media is an entertainment-related photojournalism company.  BWP owns numerous photographs and videos of celebrities, which it licenses to both online and print publications.  BWP sued Gossip Cop in the Southern District of New York for copyright infringement for posting three photos and one video on Gossip Cop’s website without BWP’s authorization.  Gossip Cop moved to dismiss BWP’s complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.  Gossip Cop claimed that its use of the four images is protected by the fair use doctrine.  In addition, Gossip Cop claimed that BWP failed to receive a copyright registration for one of the images, requiring dismissal of the complaint for that image.

The four images are a Mila Kunis/Ashton Kutcher image (Kunis/Kutcher image), a Robert Pattinson image (Pattinson image), a Liberty Ross image (Ross image) and a Gwyneth Paltrow image (Paltrow image).  The district court agreed with Gossip Cop that BWP did not possess a copyright registration of the Paltrow image, held that a pending copyright registration application was not good enough and granted Gossip Cop’s motion to dismiss regarding that image.  The district court denied Gossip Cop’s motion to dismiss for the other images.

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