Intellectual property cases disputes ‘Jersey Boys’ authorship

Los Angeles authors have several exclusive rights to the works they create including rights to copy, distribute and make derivatives. Intellectual property protection also gives authors the flexibility to sell, buy, gift or license the use of a copyright. Rules applicable to author collaborations are being tested in a federal case over the origins of the book that spawned the Broadway musical and 2014 film “Jersey Boys.”

A widow claims her husband was the co-author of an unpublished book about members of the Four Seasons, the inspiration for “Jersey Boys.” The late attorney was also a freelance writer who chronicled the group’s history. Thomas Gaetano DeVito, an original member of the band and the named defendant, contacted the writer.

DeVito apparently shared information the writer hadn’t previously known about the seamier side of some band members’ links to crime. The lawsuit states a 1988 letter from the attorney to DeVito outlined the men’s rights to the finished book. The terms included shared credit and royalties.

The writer died of lung cancer in May 1991 before the work was published. The widow alleges that DeVito registered a copyright in January 1991 as the solitary author of “Tommy DeVito – Then and Now,” which the plaintiff says, other than the title, was an exact duplicate of her husband’s work.

The copyright lawsuit, filed in 2007, accuses DeVito of breaching the joint ownership contract spelled out in the 1998 letter. A 2012 court ruling determined the late attorney and DeVito were joint authors. The case is set to be resolved in February.

Intellectual property rights for joint authors are similar to rules for single copyright holders, according to Cornell University’s Legal Information Institute. Each owner may use or license the work independently as long as the financial obligations to a co-author are met. Joint authors can avoid disputes by clarifying their copyright relationship with the help of attorneys.

Source: The Southeast Texas Record, “Texas woman’s suit over ‘Jersey Boys’ copyright set for 2015 trial” Marilyn Tennissen, Jul. 15, 2014