Scott Rudin Tries To Turn Mess Of Shutting Down Community Theater Shows... Into Publicity Stunt For His Own Show

from the just-let-them-do-their-show,-scott dept

On Friday, we wrote about the cartoonishly evil decision by producer Scott Rudin, who is producing a big Broadway reboot of To Kill A Mockingbird, written by Aaron Sorkin, to shut down local community theater versions of the earlier play version of the story, written by Christopher Sergel. Apparently, the contract with the Harper Lee estate for a stage adaptation of her book involved some odd clause that said if there was a showing on Broadway of Mockingbird, there couldn't be any stagings near a city. And Rudin then had his lawyers threaten a whole bunch of small community theaters with cease-and-desist notices, claiming they may be on the hook for $150,000 in damages. All for small community theater operations which had paid their $100 license for the rights to perform the old Sergel version of the play.

As we noted in that post, rather than say this was about lawyers getting out of hand, Rudin doubled down on the idea, bizarrely making it sound like he had to block the productions:

"We hate to ask anybody to cancel any production of a play anywhere, but the productions in question as licensed by DPC infringe on rights licensed to us by Harper Lee directly," Rudin said in a statement.

Just because something might infringe doesn't mean you need to shut it down.

As that story got more and more attention, making Rudin look worse and worse, on Friday evening he announced a "solution" as told to the Hollywood Reporter: any theater that his lawyers had already threatened... would now be able to present the Rudin/Sorkin version of the play:

"As stewards of the performance rights of Aaron Sorkin's play, it is our responsibility to enforce the agreement we made with the Harper Lee estate and to make sure that we protect the extraordinary collaborators who made this production," said Rudin in a statement released exclusively to The Hollywood Reporter. "We have been hard at work creating what I hope might be a solution for those theater companies that have been affected by this unfortunate set of circumstances, in which rights that were not available to them were licensed to them by a third party who did not have the right to do so."

"In an effort to ameliorate the hurt caused here, we are offering each of these companies the right to perform our version of To Kill a Mockingbird, Aaron Sorkin's play, currently running on Broadway," continued Rudin's statement. "For these theaters, this is the version that can be offered to them, in concert with our agreement with Harper Lee. We hope they will choose to avail themselves of this opportunity."

On the one hand, you could say (as Rudin seems to suggest in patting himself on the back in putting forth this "opportunity") that letting small community theaters put on a big Broadway show while it's still on Broadway is quite a rare opportunity. It is. But... still, the whole situation stinks. If he's letting them put on that version, why did he threaten all of those community theaters with the potential of a lawsuit that would shut down most such theaters permanently first? And why not just let them perform the version they wanted to perform in the first place? Many of the theaters had already been rehearsing and preparing sets for the original version. And while it may feel like a nice offer to put on the newer version of the play, this whole thing feels like a cheap publicity stunt by Rudin after his cartoonishly evil moves earlier.

Just let them put on the play they wanted, rather than acting like you're making a giant concession after you made yourself look like an asshole with stupid threats to bankrupt community theaters.

"I think it's a good save from something that was, honestly, not the fault of the people who licensed it and not the fault of the people who owned the rights — which people are us — but I think ultimately for those who still can do it it's a good solution," said Rudin. "Everything that they licensed, we'll stand behind with ours."

A "good save"? Maybe stop patting yourself on the back and admit that you fucked up in the first place by unleashing lawyers with bogus threat letters to small community theaters? It's a "save" in that you're trying to save your reputation, but part of that is admitting that you made a mistake in the first place, rather than trying to turn this bad situation into free marketing for your own staging.

"Letting these theaters do it now is a substantial give for us, obviously, because it's really not in our interest to have the play out anywhere but on Broadway right now," he added.

"Substantial give." Oh come on. All you had to do was not threaten community theaters and let them put on their own version. This whole thing stinks of a Hollywood producer thinking that his own play must be what's really in demand and therefore he's being oh-so-generous in letting people present it after he basically threatened to bankrupt a ton of community theaters. Those community theaters should tell him to take his offer and stuff it.

Filed Under: aaron sorkin, community theater, copyright, infringement, scott rudin, threats, to kill a mockingbird


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  • icon
    Ed (profile), 4 Mar 2019 @ 9:47am

    Rudin deserves every bad remark

    Rudin is a typical self-absorbed a**hole who deserves every bit of opprobrium coming his way. I hope sales of his Broadway show decline to the point he'll never be able to bully someone else.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    MathFox, 4 Mar 2019 @ 9:49am

    What's the value of a license?

    I do find it very interesting that a (paid for!) license can be retroactively terminated (apparently without refund). Just because some other guy thinks he should perform the play "in the Big City." This legal reasoning makes the concept of a "Valid License" subject to quantum theory... A licence can be valid and invalid at the same time, dependent on the mindset of the observer.

    This kind of legal reasoning in the publishing industry makes a consumer wary to invest in buying licenses... If you can't be sure what you paid for and whether you still own it next week.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonmylous, 4 Mar 2019 @ 9:59am

      Re: What's the value of a license?

      I'm more interested in this bit about a 3rd party claiming copyright infringement of a licensed copyright. The story does not sound like Rudin owns the copyrights. It says he licensed them for a new play. To me this sounds a bit similar to the Righthaven debacle, buying a minor rights license and then claiming it gave them all the rights. If one of these companies decided to fight it, I wonder what we'll see. False assertion of rights wound up destroying Righthaven, so Rudin might wanna be a hair wary of anyone deciding to give him the middle finger and take him to court. At the least it seems like his lawyers should not have contacted licensees directly but given the license issuer a chance to cancel and refund the licenses.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 4 Mar 2019 @ 9:49am

    I just cleaned this thing...

    "In an effort to ameliorate the hurt caused here, we are offering each of these companies the right to perform our version of To Kill a Mockingbird, Aaron Sorkin's play, currently running on Broadway," continued Rudin's statement. "For these theaters, this is the version that can be offered to them, in concert with our agreement with Harper Lee. We hope they will choose to avail themselves of this opportunity."

    ...

    "I think it's a good save from something that was, honestly, not the fault of the people who licensed it and not the fault of the people who owned the rights — which people are us — but I think ultimately for those who still can do it it's a good solution," said Rudin. "Everything that they licensed, we'll stand behind with ours."

    ...

    "Letting these theaters do it now is a substantial give for us, obviously, because it's really not in our interest to have the play out anywhere but on Broadway right now," he added.

    Anyone have a box of tissues? I seem to have 'condescending jackass pretending to be a victim' all over my screen and need to wipe it off. It's thick enough to walk on, so might need industrial strength tissues to clear it off.

    Oh yes, it's just such a sacrifice that after threatening to bankrupt various theaters you're graciously allowing them to provide advertising for your show by playing your version of it if they want to put on any version at all. Truly, you are a paragon of generosity and kindness.

    I dearly hope that a majority, if not all theaters so affected refuse his attempt to use them for PR, and instead this blows up in his face even more to the point that there's a mass-boycott of the tripe he's trying to put on.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 4 Mar 2019 @ 10:00am

      Hit enter too soon

      Apparently, the contract with the Harper Lee estate for a stage adaptation of her book involved some odd clause that said if there was a showing on Broadway of Mockingbird, there couldn't be any stagings near a city.

      Further, I'd love to see this blow up in the Harper Lee estate's face, as people/groups treat their license/contracts as the worthless pieces of paper they are and refuse to pay said estate a dime from this point forward, given they are willing to issue licenses allowing the most recent 'customer' to go around threatening previous customers.

      If a license is only good for so long as someone doesn't come along and buy the 'deluxe' version then it's a risk just waiting to happen, and not worth any amount of money to buy. Plenty of other alternatives out there, and if they are willing to be that stupid/greedy then they deserve to suffer for it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Bruce C., 4 Mar 2019 @ 1:58pm

        Re: Harper Lee estate

        That's the really weird part. The estate signed a deal that (apparently) unilaterally took away rights from the publisher (DPC) that had the prior rights to sub-license the original play, but without compensation or indemnification for DPC or the sub-licensees. And for some reason DPC is staying quiet on this loss of revenue.

        I still haven't seen an article that captures DPC's point of view in all this. Maybe they got paid off by Sorkin, too. That would explain why they're staying quiet -- they're trying to keep the fees they took in while giving the impression that the sub-licenses were valid.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anon, 4 Mar 2019 @ 9:57am

    Broadway? Broadway???

    What, is this going to be a dancing musical number?

    Maybe they've taken the tune for Springtime for Hitler and written new lyrics, something like "pummelled her with his shrivelled left hand...♫"

    Klansmen holding torches tap-dancing in the shape of a burning cross...?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 4 Mar 2019 @ 10:04am

    Said it before, sayin’ it again: Christ, what an asshole.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David, 4 Mar 2019 @ 10:07am

    To Kill To Kill A Mockingbird

    Otherwise known as (To Kill)^2 a Mockingbird. Or killing a bird twice with one Scott.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    hiroshimarrow (profile), 4 Mar 2019 @ 10:25am

    Time for Movie Night...

    I think I will invite all my family over for a movie night of To Kill A Mockingbird. I wonder if he can stop my DVD from playing?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That Anonymous Coward (profile), 4 Mar 2019 @ 10:47am

      Re: Time for Movie Night...

      Are you really willing to risk ICE raiding your house?
      They've shown up in swat gear for counterfeit undies, you think he has any qualms about enforcing his insane contract?

      (Anyone want to bet HIS lawyers put that clause in?)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Mar 2019 @ 10:36am

    Speaking of Dead Birds

    Let's share this tale widely and encourage the avoidance of the Sorkin version everywhere. Support ONLY the Sergel version. Let all help Rudin To Kill HIS Mockingbird.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Bamboo Harvester (profile), 4 Mar 2019 @ 10:50am

    The plot thickens...

    Gee, who'd'a thought it was a publicity scam....?

    ""We hate to ask anybody to cancel any production of a play anywhere, but the productions in question as licensed by DPC infringe on rights licensed to us by Harper Lee directly," Rudin said in a statement."

    According to this statement, there are TWO Contracts in play.

    DPC's with the Harper Lee Estate (I assume it's a Trust/Foundation), which licensed the theaters being threatened.

    Rudin apparently has ANOTHER Contract with the Harper Lee Estate.

    HL Estate has essentially sold the same car to two different people.

    Also, if Rudin is going to permit Houses inside the banned zone to produce HIS version, but not any version predating his, there would have to be some language in his contract with HL Estate allowing this - if not, he's just allowed all those Houses to put on any version of Mockingbird they want.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Valkor, 4 Mar 2019 @ 11:15am

      Re: The plot thickens...

      Good catch.

      It looks like THEY should be the ones in the middle of this storm. THEY should be fighting with the Estate about notifications about a new Broadway show. It doesn't seem that unreasonable to think that DPC is capable of telling licensee's "Hey, there's a new version coming out on X date. You are authorized to run your play until then."
      Seems likely that DPC never was notified about opening dates of a new show. They should be raising hell.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    bob, 4 Mar 2019 @ 10:52am

    the birds

    The comments with birds are getting really thick here.

    Maybe we should contact the Alfred Hitchcock or Daphne du Maurier estates to make sure websites can host that sort of thing within certain distances of other IP addresses. Just in case there is some obscure licensing agreement.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Mar 2019 @ 11:23am

    This makes less sense than the original c&d. Who are these fucking morons?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Mar 2019 @ 11:36am

      So ... they can put on the new play but not the old one?

      I'm very confused now.

      I assumed from the original story that the state of Broadway Theater is so bad that they are now considering community theater and high-school drama classes to be their competition.

      But now, they are insisting that their competition put on the exact same show as they are planning on releasing?

      Isn't that a bit like smacking down a 15 minute Star Wars fan made movie and then saying instead the fans can make a fan movie but only if it is the same as the soon-to-be released Star Wars movie. Oh, and here's a copy of the script you can can do it word-for-for?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Mar 2019 @ 5:32pm

    Ameliorate: a fitting word choice.
    "Could you use it in a sentence?"
    "Nothing could ameliorate the ineptitude of Principal Skinner."
    -The Simpsons

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Mar 2019 @ 5:49pm

    out_of_the_blue's hero, ladies and gentlemen!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Mar 2019 @ 6:02pm

    Ignoring the gall of Rudin's 'solution'... Are we even sure he's able to do that? Not only would it still by logic violate his contract (i.e. there would still likely be plays of to kill a mockingbird too close in distance) but it still be a mess of licencing issues due to DPC.

    That's also assuming his contract allows him to sub-license his version of the play to begin with.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Hugo S Cunningham (profile), 4 Mar 2019 @ 9:57pm

    Congress should subpoena Harper Lee's will

    and send investigators to see if there were any earlier versions, also any papers of her sister Alice Lee (lifelong manager) casting light on Harper's posthumous intentions for her work.

    The questionable doings in Harper Lee's final years (2007-2016) are covered in her Wikipedia article.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harper_Lee#2015:_Go_Set_a_Watchman

    For many decades, Harper "Nelle" Lee relied on her older sister Alice Lee, an attorney. Alice shielded Harper's privacy while maintaining a respectful relationship with their community and the "Mockingbird" fan base, allowing "Mockingbird" to ripen into a deeply beloved national treasure. Unfortunately, Harper had a stroke in 2007 and Alice became incapacitated in 2011.

    A new lawyer took charge of Harper's affairs and started filing lawsuits. (She would retain control of the estate after Harper's death in 2016.) It was this new lawyer's decision to market an inferior first draft of "Mockingbird" as a supposed sequel "Go Set a Watchman" (2015). It brought in money (not really needed), but at cost to Harper Lee's literary reputation. In 2016, the estate would block further printing of an economical "mass market" paperback of the book, which had made it an attractive choice for cash-strapped school systems and classes.

    It would be an appealing morality tale (like "Mockingbird" itself?) if proper investigation and legal action could restore "Mockingbird" to the millions who have loved it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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