Eviction Notice for RENT?
The verdict is in from the Federal Appeals Court, and, if I were one of the producer-landlords of Rent, I would be afraid, very afraid.
I predicted in this column last month that if they did not pay dramaturg/writer Lynn Thomson at least some reasonable portion of their zillions in Rent money and give her some overdue credit, they might find themselves in foreclosure. Well, now they've got two weeks to explain to a Federal Judge why the show should not be shut down!
In a decision just released, (to be posted soon at www.dramaturgy.net/RENT), the appeals court rejected several of the arguments against Thomson's alternative claim that if she does not have legal "co-authorship" rights, she does have the right to either get paid for what she wrote or pull it from the show. While leaving it to the lower court to resolve the issue, the appeals court noted that principal author Jonathan Larson "never asked Thomson to state that she would own no copyrights or transfer them to anyone", and that Thomson was the only one of Larson's collaborators who did not "sign waivers disclaiming any copyright interest." The three- judge panel went on to rule that the lower court's previous decision that Thomson is not a full "co-author" (defined narrowly to mean somebody whom both authors intended to have legal rights) does NOT stop her from suing for copyright infringement if the producers won't settle.
They have refused to pay a dime in settlement, so today Thomson took her cue from the judges and took the Rent landlords to court.
This lawsuit and motion by Thomson requests an injunction pulling all of her copyrighted material from the play, including lyrics to some of the best songs and tons of plot developments, character details and other things, which, to quote the trial judge, were "major" and "copyrightable" and succeeded in turning an "unproduceable" draft "into the hit that Rent became." According to court papers filed by the Larson heirs, the dispute already has disrupted the much-touted Rent movie deal.
Now, it is theoretically possible that the whole Rent empire could collapse. And all because a few people whom Thomson helped turn into millionaires could not bring themselves to do the right thing.
In a public statement released today, Thomson eloquently said as follows:
"In suggesting that I may own copyrights independent of Jonathan's, the courts have taken me to an unexpected place where, ironically, I may have more rights than I ever wanted, including the right to remove my material in the absence of payment and credit. I do not look forward with ease to enjoining this play which was created with such fierce commitment and passion. But the alternative is worse. To give up, to give in, for me has always meant condoning what the play itself so rigorously attacks."
"Whether or not Rent is shut down by a judge will not be up to me. It is up to the play's producers, and the other companies profiting from my work, to decide to behave honorably. If they continue in their current refusal to do so, I must use what the law demands for a just resolution. I do so for myself, to stand by my own side. And I do so to stand by the side of anyone who has made a work of art; I do so especially for anyone who has created a work and knows the pain of having it taken from them."
I could not have said it better. Go Lynn, you go, girl!
Tidbits: Now, here's something interesting for those who collect books on the theater. Smithsonian Press published "Show Music on Record" several years back. This is a reference book for music libraries and serious record collectors, listing all original cast records from 1890's to the present, covering music of the American stage, screen, and television.
Well, that was a few years ago, and now the author, Jack Raymond, has come out with an updated, expanded (586 pages) and 'final' edition that is available direct through him. More than 4,600 shows are listed, with more than 30,000 references in the nominal index. It's hardbound in linen with gold stamping, and 200 copies have been printed. The cost is $39 plus $5 shipping. You can write him at: Jack Raymond, 3713 George Mason Dr. #1714, Falls Church, Va. 22041.
The book goes back to the beginning of sound recordings and continues to the present time - including cylinders, 78's, LP's, CD's, and the odd format here and there, listing stage musicals, revues, TV musicals, film musicals and individual records by cast members of songs from their shows. If you look up Ethel Merman's recordings of Anything Goes, for example, you'll find that she recorded it in 1934 on Brunswick (78rpm) 7342; in 1947 on Decca LP Album DX-153; in 1961 on Reprise album 6032; in 1963 with Judy Garland on Paragon 1001; in 1967 on Viper?s Nest VN-CD-180; and in 1972 on London XPS- 901. Those are the initial issues, but you'll find all the reissues too! Of the original Brunswick 78, there have been 14 reissues on LP and CD, each of which is listed. Of the 1947 Decca, there have been 8 reissues. And that?s only Merman. You can find other listings under Cole Porter, Mary Martin, Bing Crosby and others. It's an encyclopedia of show music which is a must for any serious student or collector, which I highly recommend.
The mailbag: Las Vegas to become the NEW New Haven?
Thanks Gil. Yes, I read the article in the N.Y. Times and found it very interesting indeed. Since no one else seems to be able to bring the professional theater to Las Vegas, I say Go, Steve go! Wynn is a class act, and nothing he does is ever second-rate. Why not give Mr. Gallin a call and get a story for us?
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