Broadway's ‘Jersey Boys' Found Liable for Copyright Infringement

It's scheduled to wrap up its decade-long run on Broadway this January, but the drama depicted on stage in the Tony-winning musical "Jersey Boys" is nothing compared to what happened Monday behind the scenes. 

A federal jury in Nevada found the show's writers, director and producers liable for copyright infringement, attributing 10 percent of the musical's success to an unpublished biography by author Rex Woodard, NBC 4 New York confirmed.

The book was about Four Seasons band member Tommy DeVito, whose story -- along with the story of band-members Frankie Valli, Bob Guadio and Nick Massi -- is depicted in the documentary-style musical.

In the show, each of the Four Seasons gets his own turn at telling how the 1960s-era supergroup came together, and the secrets behind hits like "Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Walk Like a Man" and "December, 1963." 

Its writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice told The Washington Post in 2009 that they individually interviewed each band member when crafting the musical, including Devito, who they said told them "Don't listen to those guys. I'll tell you what really happened."

But the Nevada court appears to have felt differently. While the jury did not indicate which parts of the autobiography were copied, Forbes reported Judge Robert C. Jones did identify 11 similarities between Woodard's manuscript and Brickman and Elice's book. That included dialogue between songs, character development and some scene descriptions.

Woodward had been hired by DeVito in 1988 to ghostwrite his still-unpublished memoir, "Tommy DeVito -- Then and Now." The two men had agreed to split profits for the book, but Woodward died in May 1991 of lung cancer before lining up an agent and publisher.

After "Jersey Boys" opened on Broadway in November 2005, Woodward's widow, Donna Cortbello, hired lawyers to look into publishing her late-husband's manuscript, Forbes reported. The copyright for the material was registered to DeVito in January 1991, though she was able to amend the registration to have Woodward listed with DeVito as a co-author.

She then opened suit on the "Jersey Boys" team for developing the derivative work. The suit included "Jersey Boys" scribes Brickman and Elice, as well as director Des McAnuff and producers from Dodger Theatricals. 

Daniel M. Mayeda, co-counsel for the defendants, maintained his client's innocence to The Wall Street Journal.

"You can’t own historical events," he said. "A lot of things that are similar are facts, names and characteristics of personalities …I f you are talking about the same subject matter, they are going to have similarities." 

A spokesman for the show told NBC 4 New York, "'Jersey Boys' certainly plans to appeal the decision, and has no further comment at this time."

The damages have not been determined. According to numbers provided by the Broadway League, "Jersey Boys" has grossed more than $549 million on Broadway since its opening.

The musical plays its final performance on Jan. 15 after 4,642 shows at the August Wilson Theatre. It is the 12th-longest running show in Broadway history, has also toured the country and was adapted into a 2014 film by director Clint Eastwood.

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