A New York judge warned lawyers at the end of a two-hour hearing Friday that she may narrow the scope of a lawsuit stemming from the Broadway production of “Spider-Man.”
U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest said she had not yet decided whether to eliminate from the litigation a three-page outline that Director Julie Taymor created before the musical’s script was written and before she was fired last year and the script was rewritten.
In a lawsuit, Taymor said the current hit Broadway production, “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” was based on the unlawful use of her copyrighted written works. It said producers did not honor her right to approve changes to her book of the musical, and they have refused to pay her contractually guaranteed authorship royalties. The lawsuit said damages would exceed $1 million, and included demands for profits resulting from the unauthorized use of her material.
Taymor, who was not in court Friday, was fired in 2011 as the $75 million production sputtered despite three months of preview performances. The musical was rewritten and it successfully reopened. Taymor sued the producers in November and they countersued. The producers say Taymor’s treatment was based on pre-existing “Spider-Man” comics and films.
During Friday’s arguments, attorney Dale Cendali argued on the producers’ behalf, saying what Taymor wrote in her original proposal for the musical assembled the most obvious elements of comic books and Spider-Man movies. She noted that Taymor cited the Spider-Man movie in her proposal, known as a treatment.
Cendali said she had “never seen a case where someone made a more blatant admission that they were copying an earlier work.”
She added: “They can’t monopolize Spider-Man. They don’t own Spider-Man.”
Arguing on behalf of Taymor, attorney Charles Spada insisted that his client created new material for the Broadway production, including a new character playing a pivotal role.
“There is originality,” he said. “This is not just a case about a compilation.”
The judge said she would like to view a video of the Broadway production, though Cendali said she wanted precautions taken to ensure it does not appear on the Internet.
At one point, Forrest noted that she has special expertise on the hearing’s subject.
“I’ve got a 10-year-old son. I know a lot about superheroes,” she said.
The judge also is deciding the fate of counterclaims brought against Taymor by the show’s producers. She did not hear arguments, saying she would rely on written submissions.
A trial is scheduled for January.
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