Beaumont Boy Battles Jersey Boys: Joint Authors of Copyrightable Work

By Tamera H. BennettJanuary 16, 2008

Corbello v. DeVito, 1:2007cv00985, E. Dist. Tex. (Beaumont) Dec. 28, 2007. Who gets paid from Jersey Boys the 2006 award winning musical about the musical group the Four Seasons? Is it Texas attorney Rex Conrad Woodard’s heirs or Thomas Gatano DeVito, an original member of the Four Seasons, or both? The show continues to gross over one million dollars per week from Broadway performances alone. So who gets paid is a big issue.

Woodard, a music buff and writer, wrote numerous articles on the Four Seasons. Prior to his death in 1991, Woodard entered into a written agreement with DeVito to co-author DeVito’s biography and to share equally in any profits from the book or adaptations. The biography chronicled the Four Seasons/DeVito’s career and even touched on issues such as mob involvement and police investigations of the group’s members.

Woodard began shopping the completed manuscript in 1990. He even included a copyright tag line on the manuscript stating © January, 1991 Tommy Devito, Rex Woodard.

Woodard died in 1991 prior to the book’s publication. Woodard’s widow continued to shop the book for a publisher with no success. In 2007, a search of the copyright office records revealed an identical manuscript was registered solely in the name of DeVito.

Woodard’s widow filed sued in the Eastern District of Texas for declaration of her ownership rights in the manuscript, breach of contract and accounting between co-authors. The complaint makes for interesting reading.

The complaint states:

The deposited work was identical to the Work written by Mr. Woodard with one exception – Mr. Woodard’s original title page, encaptioned, “UNTITLED TOMMY DEVITO/FOUR SEASONS BIOGRAPHY, and bearing the January 1991 copyright notice in Defendant’s and Mr. Woodard’s names, had been removed and replaced with a title page reading, “Tommy DeVito – Then and Now By Tommy DeVito.”

The complaint continues by alleging:

The discovery of the copyright registration was coupled with near-contemporaneous discoveries that the writers of Jersey Boys had obtained access to the manuscript; that the manuscript had inspired the form, structure, and content of the musical; that the perspective of the “Tommy DeVito” character therein was derived largely from the manuscript; that several scenes in Jersey Boys were adapted from the manuscript; that actors portraying DeVito in the production were provided with copies of the manuscript; and, that DeVito was financially connected to the musical, and had received royalties and/or profits.

Arguably, the Jersey Boys production is a derivative work of the Woodard/DeVito unpublished manuscript which would entitle Woodard’s heirs compensation from the Jersey Boys production.

For additional information read Texas Lawyer.