Can You Own The Story Of A Band?

from the isn't-copyright-grand? dept

Here's a question for you: can someone own the copyright on the history of a musical group? We may find out as a lawsuit moves forward concerning the "ownership" of the story of a famous band. As you may know, there's been a popular musical called Jersey Boys about the history of the musical group The Four Seasons -- and now there's the inevitable argument over who gets to earn money from that musical.

The person suing is the widow of a lawyer/writer, Rex Woodard, and she's suing all of the band members, with a specific focus on Thomas Gatano DeVito. Woodard's husband knew the members of The Four Seasons and co-wrote a manuscript biography of DeVito. A copy of the manuscript with a copyright notice naming both Woodard and DeVito as authors of the biography was registered at the Copyright Office. However, the book itself was never published. Soon after the writing was completed, Woodard died. During the time Woodard was sick, apparently DeVito submitted a copy of the work to the Copyright Office again -- without Woodard's name on it. After Woodard died, totally unaware of DeVito's separate registration, Woodard's wife continued shopping the manuscript, but was unable to find a publisher.

The problem is that the Jersey Boys musical was apparently based partly on this unpublished manuscript, which would make the musical a derivative work. Various folks involved in the musical claim they derived inspiration from reading the manuscript. And, of course, Woodard's widow now wants the royalties from the successful musical. The complaint itself is long and detailed, but it does come back to a pretty basic question: should the story of a band be owned by someone? As we've noted in the past, movie studios often "buy" the rights to news stories for movies, even though there's no legal basis for it (you can't copyright "facts" and so a news story can't be owned by anyone). In theory, shouldn't the same thing be true concerning the story of a band and the various anecdotes of what happened to the band and its members?

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Sep 2008 @ 12:49pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Copyright vs Plagerism in Academia

    So co-opting someone else's work is not the actual act around which both are based?

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