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Julie Taymor has filed a blockbuster lawsuit in New York that claims that Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark, the most expensive production in Broadway history, has violated her rights by continuing to use her work without compensation.
Taymor, an Academy Award-nominated director, was let go from the musical earlier this year, before it officially opened, due to artistic differences. The show suffered from poor early reviews and high-profile injuries to cast, but it has been a success at the box office, showing to near-capacity crowds since it first premiered in November 2010.
After Taymor was let go, she filed an arbitration claim against producers, saying she was owed more than $500,000 in royalties. An arbitration hearing was held earlier this month, and the outcome isn’t known.
But Taymor is taking a new tack in an effort to claim profits from the show, alleging in her complaint that producers have continued to make use of her creative contributions. Producer Michael Cohl’s 8 Legged Productions is the defendant.
“Ms. Taymor regrets that the producers’ actions have left her no choice but to resort to legal recourse to protect her rights,” says her attorney, Charles Spada at Lankler Siffert & Wohl.
Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark is a rock musical that credits its music and lyrics to U2’s Bono and The Edge and its book to Taymor, Glen Berger and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. It not only set the record for Broadway’s most expensive production ever at more than a reported $75 million, but also the longest preview period (182 performances before it officially opened). Producers needed the long gestation period to figure out the story as well as complicated flying stunts that left several cast members injured.
In March 2011, Taymor left the production.
Taymor’s legal move isn’t unprecedented.
In the mid-1990s, director Joe Mantello managed to get the U.S. Copyright Office to accept his application of an annotated script of “Love! Valour! Compassion!” a Terrence McNally play. When a Florida-based regional production company attempted to put on a production without acknowledging and paying Mantello, he successfully sued.
Other directors haven’t found as much luck.
For instance, in 2004, producers of an off-Broadway production of “Tam Lin” were sued by a fired director, Edward Einhorn, who argued that his work in developing the play entitled him to part of the copyright. A judge released a preliminary ruling that raised doubts about this claim, saying he saw no evidence of a copyrightable annotated script at the time of Einhorn’s firing. Before a judge made a definitive judgement, the two sides settled for $800.
The Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers have long supported the contention that directors and possibly choreographers deserve a piece of copyright and the ability to participate in the income generated by productions. The issue hasn’t been settled, but the forthcoming Taymor case could be an opportunity for the theatrical community to discuss authorship for copyright purposes.
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