Beatles tribute acts locked in copyright battle


Rival tribute shows to British band The Beatles have become locked in a copyright infringement dispute over claims one musical copied another.

The producers of Let It Be, which had a stint in London’s West End and is about to open on Broadway in the US, are being sued by US production Rain, which claims it came up with the idea for a staged tribute to the group first.

In a dispute filed at the Southern District Court of New York, Rain Corp, the company which produced Rain, is demanding a 50-50 share of profits from Let it Be and to be listed as a joint author.

Rain Corp claims Let it Be uses too many of the same songs, similar stage artwork, and that the appearance and dialogue of actors portraying the so-called ‘fab four’ infringes on its copyright.

A filed complaint states the defendants had “misappropriated” copyrighted work “without credit or compensation” and deprived Rain Corp of artistic control over its show, which appeared on Broadway in 2010 and 2011.

But Peter Cane, one of Let It Be's lawyers, told The New York Times that the copyright claim was unfounded.

He said: "How do you monopolise the ability to present an impersonation of The Beatles? How many different ways can you really do it?"

Speaking to WIPR, Paul Fakler, partner at Arent Fox LLP, said he agreed with Cane, admitting it would be a “big stretch” for the claims to succeed on a purely copyright basis.

“If the only similarities are singing and looking and sounding like The Beatles that isn’t to going to hold up as a substantial claim,” he said.

“My understanding is that the Rain show was essentially a Beatles tribute band concert. There was no story or ‘book’ in the traditional theatrical sense, other than a few instances of stage banter. Rain Corp does not own the copyright to The Beatles’ songs, various music producers do. Rain also does not own a copyright in the way that the Beatles dressed, sang or spoke. Unless their variations are so creative that they could get their own copyright I would struggle to see the claims succeed.”

According to Rain Corp, Let It Be producers Jeff Parry and Annerin Productions had agreed to collaborate on a show, Rain—A Tribute, with it in 2005.

Fakler added: “Unless the Rain producers added additional creative elements of dialogue or staging that were so original (and not based on historical fact) that they could get their own copyright and the Let It Be producers closely copied those few original elements, I would struggle to see how the claims could succeed.”

Let It Be is due to open on Broadway in the coming weeks.

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