New Wave in 'Point Break' Parody Litigation
MANHATTAN (CN) - A federal judge ordered a new trial to assess how much of a $250,000 judgment a New York-investor owes the playwright stiffed out of her royalties for the parody play, "Point Break LIVE!"
Playwright Jaime Keeling adapted and copyrighted the script sending up Katherine Bigelow's action flick, starring Keanu Reeves as an undercover FBI agent and Patrick Swayze as a bank robber and tsunami-surfer. The script "Point Blank LIVE!" calls for an audience member to read the lines for the character "Keanu" from cue cards.
In 2007, Keeling negotiated an agreement with Eve Hars, the owner of New Rock Theater Productions, to stage a two-month run of "Point Break LIVE!" in Los Angeles.
Though the show was a hit, Hars stopped paying Keeling royalties, taking the position that the playwright had no right to copyright her parody. The production later toured in Chicago, Las Vegas and San Francisco.
Two years ago, U.S. District Judge Thomas Griesa ruled that position had "no basis in law" and brought it to a jury trial to assess damages, which ended on Dec. 7. The jury awarded Keeling a quarter million dollars in actual damages and profits.
On Thursday, the judge set a new trial to discover what liabilities are owed by Ethan Garber, a New York-based investor who owned 40 percent of New Rock.
According to the 22-page opinion, Garber asked Hars to verify that Keeling created the play, and he and his attorney sent emails that "pressured Hars to either renegotiate for a lower royalty or to stage productions without Keeling's permission."
"Furthermore, Garber emailed Hars, [his former attorney Gabriel] Fischbarg, and [Keeling's witness Thomas] Blake to point out that, though it was possible that Keeling's legal position might have some merit, this was a risk they could take since Keeling was the 'impoverished vulnerable one' - he suggested that New Rock could out-litigate Keeling since the operating agreement provided that Fischbarg would defend New Rock for free while Keeling would need to pay legal fees," the complaint states.
Blake is not a party to the case.
Fischbarg told Courthouse News that he is no longer one of the lawyers working on the case.
Garber, however, claims he eventually urged Hars to stop staging infringing productions of the play in an effort to limit his potential personal liability, to no avail.
To settle this issue, Judge Griesa slated a new trial on an "extremely narrow question."
"Did there come a time when Garber made a genuine attempt to stop New Rock's infringing productions of 'Point Break LIVE!'? If so, when did this occur, and what percentage of defendants' profits was earned after that moment? This portion of the profits must be deducted from the amount for which Garber is jointly liable," the opinion states.
Attorney Gregg Kanter, who represents the defendants, declined to comment.
Keeling's attorneys could not be reached.