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Writer Can Copyright ‘Point Break’ Parody

MANHATTAN (CN) - A New York-based theater company cannot bail out of a copyright lawsuit from a playwright who says she penned its hit stage parody of the 1991 surfer movie "Point Break," a federal judge ruled.

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.

In a 5-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Thomas Griesa said that the theater stopped paying Keeling royalties, even though the show was a hit.

"Although the play was successful, Hars did not renew the production agreement with Keeling," Griesa wrote. "Instead, Hars and New Rock allegedly repudiated the original agreement and took the position the Keeling had no rights to her script. These actions by Hars and New Rock were allegedly instigated by [their co-defendant Ethan] Garber, a New Rock investor."

Since early 2008, New Rock continued to stage the show in Los Angeles and tour it without paying Keeling, the order states.

The playwright sued the theater for copyright infringement in December.

In a 7-page memoto dismiss the suit, New Rock claimed that it was the "official licensee" with sole authority to adapt "Point Blank," and that Keeling had no right to copyright her parody.

Judge Griesa wrote that this position has "no basis in law."

"So long as the creator of the derivative work stays within the bounds of fair use and adds sufficient originality, she may also obtain a copyright," Griesa wrote. "In fact, creators of derivative works often register their own copyrights-without permission from the holder of the original copyright-and then sue those who create later derivative works from the same original but whose later derivative works are alleged to be too similar to the earlier derivative work and thus infringe on the earlier derivative work."

Lawyers for both parties said they had no comment. A lawyer for the theater also declined to comment. The case will now proceed to discovery.

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