Mullen v. Society of Stage Directors & Choreographers, No. 06 C 6818 (N.D. Ill.) (Coar, J.).
Judge Coar dismissed this case based upon the parties’ settlement in late 2007.* Plaintiffs were the various production heads of the Chicago production of the musical “Urinetown!” (“Chicago Production”). The Chicago Production was performed pursuant to a license from Blue Dog Entertainment, LLC. Despite that license, plaintiffs each received a cease and desist letter from counsel for defendants (the heads of production of the Broadway Urinetown! production (“Broadway Production”) and their unions USA and the Society of Stage Directors & Choreographers (“SSDC”). The letter warned that plaintiffs willfully copied copyrighted aspects of the Broadway Production and attempted to pass off the Chicago Production as the award-winning Broadway Production. Defendants also held a press conference during which they publicly stated that the plaintiffs “plagiarized” the Broadway Production. Plaintiffs responded by filing suit seeking declaratory judgments that the Chicago Production did not infringe any of plaintiffs’ copyrights and that it was not Lanham Act passing off. And based upon the press conference, plaintiffs included a defamation claim.
I am writing about this relatively old settlement because Gordon Firemark has an excellent post at his TheatreLawyer blog — click here to read the post — about the settlement of a similar case filed against an Ohio Urinetown! production at about the same time this case was initiated. Firemark provides excellent advice for productions that license a copyrighted play and consider using elements of a famous production of the play:
The lesson for producers is clear. Obtaining production rights from a publisher (such as Samuel French, Tams-Witmark, Rodgers & Hammerstein, etc.), does NOT include the right to copy all or part of the broadway, off-broadway or other original production. It is incumbent on producers to either (a) obtain such rights separately, or (b) re-imagine the show and create a new, original production from the ground up.