After nearly a decade in court, a Nevada judge decides that producers, writers and the director of the hit musical fairly used an unpublished biography.

The four seasons was a well known music group decades ago. At some point in the late 1980s, one member of the band, tommy devito, agreed to team up with a fan/lawyer, rex woodward, to write his autobiography. woodward agreed to do all the writing based on interviews he conducted with devito, and his own knowledge of the band. That book was completed, but never published. Devito and woodward had an agreement that the book would be published with both their names and they’d split the proceeds 50/50. Soon after the book’s completion woodward passed away from lung cancer. unbeknownst to woodward’s surviving family, devito registered the copyright on the autobiography a few months later, but without woodward’s name included. and, still, the book was never published.
In the mid-2000s, woodward’s family again tried to get the book published, just as the broadway play “jersey boys” was about to open. Jersey boys were a play about the four seasons, and it became phenomenally successful around the globe.

The lawsuit was brought by Donna Corbello, the widow of Rex Woodard, who assisted Four Seasons member Tommy DeVito in an autobiography. The book was based on interviews, newspaper articles, Freedom of Information Act requests and more, but was never published in Woodard’s lifetime. In the years following Woodard’s 1991 death from lung cancer, Corbello and Woodard’s sister continued to seek publication. In 2005, DeVito agreed to help. That was the same year that Jersey Boys premiered on Broadway, later to win Tony Awards and be adapted into a film by Clint Eastwood.
The 2007 suit led to all sorts of fireworks, including an examination of a 1999 contract between DeVito and Jersey Boys producers that granted a right to use and incorporate “materials,” including “biographies.” Although DeVito may have properly conveyed the right to use his autobiography, a reversionary clause may have canceled that. This was all fussed over by the district judge, who initially rejected Corbello’s lawsuit, and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which revived it and paved the way for trial.

In a court
U.S. District Court judge Robert Jones gave the defendants relief in ruling in their favor, citing four factors that show fair use. The most important factor, according to Jones, is use upon the potential market, claiming, “The evidence at trial indicated that before the Play debuted, the Work had no market value. … To the extent the Work may be profitable today, it is almost certainly only because of the Play … consists of over 50% musical works (by running time) in which Plaintiff has no copyright, and the remainder of which (the non-musical script of the Play) is comprised of less than 1% of creative expression found in the Work and uses less than 1% of the Work. If anything, the Play has increased the value of the Work.”

The musical to be informative and transformative, leading to ruling in favor of the defendants. JERSEY BOYS opened on Broadway to critical acclaim on November 6, 2005 at the August Wilson Theatre. JERSEY BOYS is written by Marshall Brickman & Rick Elice, with music by Bob Gaudio, lyrics by Bob Crewe, and is directed by two-time Tony Award-winner Des McAnuff and choreographed by Sergio Trujillo. The original Broadway cast included John Lloyd Young, Christian Hoff, Daniel Reichard and J.Robert Spencer. JERSEY BOYS is the story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons: Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi, about a group of blue-collar boys from the wrong side of the tracks who became one of the biggest American pop music sensations of all time. They wrote their own songs, invented their own sounds and sold 175 million records worldwide – all before they were thirty. The show features all their hits including “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Oh What A Night,” “Walk Like A Man,” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You”