‘Jersey Boys’ Makers Defeat Copyright Claims at Ninth Circuit

Written September 9, 2020

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on September 8, 2020, held that the musical “Jersey Boys” doesn’t infringe the copyright in a Four Seasons band member’s autobiography because any similarities between the works are based on historical facts. Corbello v. Valli, 9th Cir., No. 17-16337, 9/8/20. 

Rex Woodard partnered with Four Seasons member Tommy DeVito to ghostwrite DeVito’s autobiography in the late 1980s. The book was never published, but DeVito gave a copy to people involved with developing the hit musical “Jersey Boys” about the band.

Woodard’s widow Donna Corbello sued three band members and the musical’s writers, directors, and producers for copyright infringement.

A Nevada federal jury ruled for Corbello, but the judge overturned the verdict, finding that most of the works’ similarities weren’t protectable and that any infringement of protectable elements was fair use.

The Ninth Circuit affirmed the decision, but held that none of the alleged similarities were copyrightable without addressing fair use.