9 September 2020CopyrightRory O'Neill

Four Seasons story is not under copyright, court rules

The musical “Jersey Boys” doesn’t infringe the copyright for the autobiography of Four Seasons guitarist Tommy DeVito, a US court ruled yesterday, September 8.

According to the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the facts in nonfiction works are not protectable by copyright.

DeVito authored his still-unpublished autobiography with writer Rex Woodard, purporting to tell “the whole story” of the 1960s pop band, who were also the subject of the successful “Jersey Boys” stage show.

Woodard’s widow Donna Corbello later brought a copyright lawsuit against the creators of “Jersey Boys”, as well as original Four Seasons members including Frankie Valli.

According to Corbello, the musical copies key elements of Woodard and DeVito’s unpublished work. Facts in nonfiction works are not protectable by copyright under the “asserted truths” doctrine.

But Corbello argued that the rule didn’t apply because the work remained unpublished, claiming that “only representations of truth made to the public trigger the asserted truths doctrine”.

In yesterday’s opinion, the Ninth Circuit rejected this argument, remarking that it was without “basis in either the case law or the doctrine’s copyright law foundations”.

“The asserted truths doctrine includes dialogue that an author has explicitly represented as being fully accurate, even if the author was unlikely to have recalled or been able to report the quotations exactly,” the opinion read.

That means that supposedly truthful accounts are not protectable by copyright, even if their veracity is challenged later.

The Ninth Circuit panel said: “an author who holds their work out as nonfiction cannot later claim, in litigation, that aspects of the work were actually made up and thus entitled to full copyright protection. Because the musical did not copy any protected elements of the autobiography, the panel concluded, there was no copyright infringement.”

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