25 September 2019CopyrightRory O'Neill

Hamilton producers in copyright battle over ill-fated exhibition

The producers of a “Hamilton”-themed exhibition, based on the life of the titular US president, are embroiled in a copyright battle with a production company which was sacked from the project due to rising costs.

Imagine Exhibitions (IEI) was brought on to project manage the exhibition in 2016, but left the project in May 2018 after the Hamilton Exhibition company, formed by Jeffrey Seller, producer of the hit musical, expressed concerns over delays and a budget which had “skyrocketed to over $13 million”.

Hamilton Exhibition sued IEI in July this year, filing claims including fraud and breach of contract against the production company.

IEI responded in August with its own counterclaims, which include the “misappropriation” of its IP in the Hamilton exhibition, which eventually opened in April this year.

According to IEI, Seller and Hamilton Exhibition spotted “an opportunity to steal all of the valuable IP, expertise, advice and industry contacts IEI had provided to them and use it for their own benefit”.

IEI claims that “many elements of the final exhibition were clearly based upon numerous works of authorship created by IEI and constitute unauthorised derivative works thereof”.

Specifically, IEI cited 11 copyright-protected works which it said were original illustrations depicting room designs, and which featured in the final exhibition.

Hamilton Exhibition has now hit back at IEI’s counterclaims, seeking to have them dismissed.

In a motion filed on Friday, September 20 the company said the exhibition was a work of nonfiction, and the copyrighted-works cited by IEI were “merely devoted to the same historical subject”.

“That is far too thin a reed on which to base a copyright claim where the underlying content is American history, which is in the public domain and free for all to use,” Hamilton Exhibition said.

“Simply put, IEI cannot copyright historical facts about Hamilton’s life, and the exhibition cannot infringe IEI’s works merely because it covers the same historical subject,” the motion added.

The copyright dispute is entangled in a wider battle over contract and fraud claims. Each side has blamed each other for delays and the project’s bloated costs.

IEI cited Seller as admitting fault for the project’s shortcomings, quoting him as saying: “I built something that was too big, too beautiful, too gigantic, to move around.”

Hamilton Exhibition, on the other hand, has accused IEI of mismanaging the project and being unable to deliver what it had promised.

The exhibition closed early on 25 August after a disappointing commercial performance.

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