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Rent Foreclosure?

If the producer-landlords of RENT don't pay one of the play's authors at least some reasonable portion of the $150 million in Rent money they've taken in, the mega-hit musical might find itself facing a foreclosure. That's the word from the lawyers for judicially-recognized Rent writer Lynn Thomson, as confirmed by the transcript of the recent oral arguments before the nation's second-highest court.

As reflected in the transcript (now available at www.dramaturgy.net/RENT), there is no longer any issue as to whether Thomson is one of the authors of RENT. In the words of the Presiding Appellate Judge, the lower court's finding that Thomson "wrote" portions of RENT which are "independently copyrightable" and "non-de minimis" (i.e., substantial) is one which now can be "taken for granted." In other words, Thomson already has won on that critical issue.

The only remaining issue is whether Thomson is a legal "co-author," which allows her a 16 per cent share of the authors' royalties, or whether she is instead a separate "sole author" of her own material, which would require the producers to either negotiate with her for a license, or face a court injunction stopping the show. Thomson's team argues that the "co-author" theory makes more legal and practical sense, but either way, she seems on the verge of finally getting the compensation and title-page credit which the late Jonathan Larson apparently intended for her.

If the judges' preliminary comments are any indication, it seems the Court will lean in favor of the "sole author" theory, which would award Thomson an even bigger victory than she asked for. The Presiding Judge noted that even where an "other author" such as Thomson might not fit the definition of a legal "co"-author, "this doesn't mean that the other author doesn't have copyrights in whatever portion he or she has put into the work, unless she has, or he has, turned those copyrights over." Referring to Thomson in particular, this appeal judge said that "there was independently copyrightable material that she made..., and there's no indication that she turned that over."

Although the RENT producers have been paying Thomson a grand total of $50 per week for dramaturgical services performed after the play was written, they continue to refuse to pay her a penny from the millions of dollars in profit they've reaped from the script which Larson himself said she "transformed." The producers and Larson heirs continue to refuse her, despite the lower court's ruling that Thomson was "a significant force" in turning an "unproduceable" draft "into the hit that RENT became." But if the producers and heirs stonewall much longer, Thomson's lawyers say they will move for an injunction against the show, if that is the only way Thomson can get at least a modicum of justice. Stay tuned!

Tony Awards: Last Monday, within minutes of the announcement of the nominations for the 1998 Tony Awards at Sardi's, several voting members of the League of American Theatres and Producers were canvassed on the phone by a young man supposedly soliciting their comments on the nominations for a newspaper article. His questions quickly zeroed in on the nomination of The Scarlet Pimpernel for best musical. Suspicions about his intentions were raised with his question "Since Side Show has closed and Ragtime and The Lion King are financially successful, do you, as a member of the League, intend to support the struggling Pimpernel with your Tony vote?" Insiders are dismissing these phone calls as the antics of a fanatic and misguided fan. Fan? Think about it!

RAGTIME: Musical theater fans are in a frenzy. The RCA Victor O.B.C. is in record stores across the country and word is that it is amazing, so the fans say on our All That Chat forum and by our Sound Advice critic, Joseph Molnar. So, I had to go out and get a copy and find out what the fuss was about. One word: Brilliant! Ragtime is simply the very best Broadway cast album ever recorded! Bar none. But that shouldn't surprise you. Ragtime is simply the best musical to hit Broadway in years!


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