Unanimous federal jury finds that Jersey Boys musical infringes unpublished book
12/01/2016

Papetti McKirgan

RENO, Nev. – After nearly nine years of legal wrangling and a four-week trial, a federal jury found this week that the writers, director, and producers of Jersey Boys, the blockbuster hit musical about Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, committed copyright infringement by using and copying portions of an unpublished manuscript in developing and writing the script for the play.​

The nine-person jury in Reno, Nev. unanimously found director Des McAnuff, producer Michael David, co-writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, and various related companies liable for infringement for copying from Tommy DeVito – Then and Now, an unpublished biography about The Four Seasons, and its co-founder, guitarist, Tommy DeVito, completed in 1990 by Rex Woodard, a Texas attorney and freelance music journalist, with DeVito’s assistance. The jury also found that 10 percent of the success of Jersey Boys is directly attributable to the infringement.

Woodard, an avid Four Seasons fan who also wrote articles about the group for Goldmine magazine in the early 1980s, died of complications from lung cancer in 1991, shortly after completing the book. After Woodard’s death, in early 2004, DeVito provided a copy of the unpublished manuscript to one of the Jersey Boys writers, for a limited purpose, and requested that it be returned right away. Days later, the writers returned the manuscript, leading DeVito to believe they had complied with his restrictions, but only after making additional copies, which they then used and copied from when writing the Jersey Boys script.

The lawsuit was brought by Donna Corbello, Woodard’s widow, and heir to his rights in the unpublished book. The suit was initially filed in Texas in 2007, against DeVito alone, but was transferred to Nevada in 2008, and expanded to include the remaining defendants. A confidential settlement was reached with DeVito before trial.

Corbello is represented by Gregory H. Guillot, of Gregory H. Guillot, P.C., in Dallas, who filed the initial action in Texas, and co-counsel Robert H. McKirgan, of Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie LLP, in Phoenix, Ariz., who led the Nevada trial along with Guillot and Randy Papetti and Todd Erb of Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie.

Co-counsel Guillot and McKirgan, speaking on behalf of Corbello, said, “We are pleased with the verdict, and look forward to the next phase of the trial, which will assess damages for the defendants’ infringement.” Defense counsel have made public statements they will appeal the verdict, citing alleged inconsistencies in rulings, and errors in jury instructions, and they contend Corbello is seeking ownership of historical facts and events. Guillot and McKirgan have not commented on these allegations, other than to note that the lawsuit is not based on the retelling of unprotected historical facts, but instead arose from the Jersey Boys writers’ copying of protected expression directly from Woodard’s unpublished work, and the unlawful use of its characterizations and accounts for the play.

Jersey Boys: The Story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons is one of the longest-running Broadway shows in history and has grossed over two billion dollars since its 2004 debut at the La Jolla Playhouse in California. The play received four Tony Awards in 2006, including for Best Musical, as well as international awards, including the Lawrence Olivier award for Best New Musical in London, in 2008.