RENO, Nev. (CN) – Frankie Valli, whose lead vocals helped catapult the Four Seasons to a string of chart-topping songs in the 1960s, said he didn’t know why he was a defendant in a copyright-infringement trial over the hit musical “Jersey Boys,” which depicts the Four Seasons’ rise to fame.
“I really don’t understand why I’m here, but I’m here,” Valli testified earlier this month in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Robert C. Jones. The judge is presiding over a jury trial on claims that Valli and others who brought “Jersey Boys” to Broadway violated the copyright protection of an unpublished autobiography of Tommy DeVito, who was also a member of the Four Seasons.
“I’m upset about it,” Valli said of the lawsuit. “Am I not allowed to tell my story?”
He testified that he never heard of the unpublished book, legally referred to as the “work,” before the suit was filed.
The 82-year-old singer, however, doesn’t have to wonder about his fate with the jury because Jones, in a written ruling issued Thursday, released him from the copyright claims. The judge did the same for defendant Bob Gaudio, another member of the Four Seasons.
After the plaintiff’s case in chief, Jones said Valli and Gaudio were entitled to a judgment in their favor as a matter of law.
The evidence during the trial “was unrebutted that neither of them ever even saw the copyrighted work until their depositions in this case,” the judge said.
Jones also ruled that the plaintiff, as a matter of law, can’t seek enhanced damages for willful copyright infringement against the remaining defendants – the writers, director and producers of “Jersey Boys.”
He said “there was no evidence adduced at trial that any defendant knew of or recklessly disregarded the possibility that any copying from the work infringed a copyright.”
In making that determination, Jones cited DeVito’s failure to object to any portion of the “Jersey Boys” script that may have been taken from his unpublished autobiography either before or after public performances of the musical began. DeVito, who is no longer a defendant because of a settlement with the plaintiff, gave the musical’s writers access to the book.
DeVito’s actions also strongly imply a license, the judge said.
Closing arguments in the trial, now in its third week, are set for next Monday. Testimony concluded this week with both sides calling expert witnesses to the stand.
The trial caps nearly nine years of litigation. The plaintiff, Donna Corbello, filed the copyright suit in 2007, claiming that the “Jersey Boys” script is derived, as least partially, from the unpublished book about DeVito, which was written by her late husband, Rex Woodard, a Texas lawyer and devoted fan of the Four Seasons.
The book was finished in 1990, and Woodard died the following year.
DeVito registered the book with the U.S. Copyright Office under his name four months before Woodard’s death, but Corbello didn’t learn of the copyright until 2006 when she and her sister-in-law sought to get the book published amid the success of “Jersey Boys.” Corbello then had her late husband added as a co-author in the copyright registration.
“Jersey Boys” opened on Broadway in 2005 and garnered four 2006 Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
The copyright trial has featured extensive testimony from key defendants – “Jersey Boys” writers Eric Elice and Marshall Brickman, director Des McAnuff, and the head of the musical’s production company, Michael David.
The defendants’ attorneys have tried to establish a lack of similarities between the musical’s script and the unpublished book, while also emphasizing that facts, such as actual events, places and people, can’t be protected by copyright, nor can single words or two-word phrases.
The plaintiff’s attorneys, on the other hand, have attempted to make a case that the creators of “Jersey Boys” had been struggling to come up with a script until they obtained the unpublished book and that key events depicted in the musical came from the book.