Clint Eastwood, Warner Bros. Face Copyright Lawsuit Over 'Jersey Boys' Adaptation

An author's widow files a new complaint in a dispute stretching back a decade.
'Jersey Boys' (2014)

It took nearly 10 years for a federal judge to look at Jersey Boys, the Broadway story of the 1960s pop group The Four Seasons, and declare the theatrical production to be a fair use of an unpublished biography. Now comes a new lawsuit involving the same plaintiff over Clint Eastwood's film adaptation.

In late June, Donna Corbello sued Warner Bros., Eastwood, GK Films and members of The Four Seasons including Frankie Valli over the movie. Her complaint was filed in California federal court just days after she suffered a stunning loss when a Nevada judge overturned a jury verdict in her favor

Corbello is the widow of Rex Woodard, who once assisted Four Seasons member Tommy DeVito in an autobiography. She asserts that producers of the theatrical version used her late husband's materials. After a decade in court, she convinced a jury in November, but then on June 14, U.S. District Court judge Robert Jones bypassed an assessment of damages by coming to the conclusion that Woodard's biography was fairly used. The judge determined that only a small portion had wound up in the musical and that what was incorporated was significantly transformative. 

The decision is headed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal for review, but in the meantime, Corbello is now targeting Eastwood's 2014 movie, too.

According to the complaint (read here), GK Films was put on notice about the theatrical litigation in 2010. In response, Corbello's lawyer was told that negotiations for a film deal had ceased.

"Plaintiff had no reason to doubt this representation in 2010, and accordingly, assumed there would be no cinematic version of Jersey Boys, unless and until the Theatrical Litigation was resolved," states the complaint. "However, upon information and belief, while perhaps technically true, the representation from Defendant GK Films ... was misleading..."

Corbello alleges that another company led by King had entered into an agreement with the writers of Jersey Boys and that rights were subsequently assigned to Warner Bros. A purchase agreement was signed in 2013.

"Upon information and belief, the Purchase Agreement for the Jersey Boys Movie also establishes that Defendants Warner Bros. Pictures, WB Studio Enterprises, Warner Bros. Entertainment, and their affiliates, were on notice, and were aware of, Plaintiff’s copyright claims when the agreement was executed," continues the complaint. "For example, Sections 5(a) and 5(b) of the Purchase Agreement, which consist of representations and warranties from Defendants Brickman, Elice, Valli, and Gaudio, that the materials conveyed are original, and do not infringe copyrights of others, each prominently include the following qualifier: 'excluding the Corbello v. DeVito et al., pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit [“Corbello Litigation”].' Thus, the conveying Defendants, the receiving Warner Bros. Defendants, and Defendant WAGW, willfully and intentionally decided to proceed with the film at their risk."

Eastwood's film was hardly a hit. With a $40 million budget, it made about $47 million at the box office domestically.

Nevertheless, Corbello claims she's due damages from the alleged misappropriation of Woodard's work.

"The Jersey Boys Movie, as released, still contains protectable expression from the Work, and material viewed as infringing same by a unanimous jury in the Theatrical Litigation," states the complaint. "Most significantly, it retains, with only minor modification, the studio dialogue for the scene in which The Four Seasons record their third hit, 'Walk Like a Man.' This dialogue, which appears on page 124 of the Work, is entirely the product of Woodard’s literary imagination, and was not a 'real conversation' among the band members."

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