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Copyright Infringement 'The Greatest Showman' in the UK

  • 1.  Copyright Infringement 'The Greatest Showman' in the UK

    Posted 08-01-2019 09:56
    This link directs to a law firm's press release, and it is from their POV.
    I'm not certain I'd call it a 'favorable' result. IMO. The production company went under; the rental theater is fund-raising to stay in business, and individuals (directors) were dragged through court proceedings over the course of a year.

    In September 2018, Cyclone, Stiwt and their respective directors were faced with High Court proceedings, brought by entertainment giants, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, and their music publishing arms, TCF Music Publishing Inc and Fox Film Music Corporation ('Fox'). This came after Cyclone performed its own version of Fox's "The Greatest Showman", set years after the events of the hit film, at the Stiwt Theatre last summer. The total ticket sales for the 7-performance production amounted to around £40,000.

    Twentieth Century Fox not only issued a claim against Cyclone and Stiwt, but also their individual directors, which resulted in grave concerns for the individuals, as they would be personally liable. This caused all the defendants much distress over the course of a year, as any personal assets would be on the line.

    As a result of the proceedings, Cyclone went under.  Cyclone was a family business run by Stewart Bassett and his 25-year-old son, Sam.

    Stiwt Arts Trust Limited, is a non-profit organisation, operating as a community arts centre in the small town of Rhosllannerchrugog, near Wrexham. It is a small theatre run by a handful of dedicated, hardworking employees and volunteers from the community, and is supported by the community as a whole. Gareth Thomas, 70, is a Director and Manager of the Stwit theatre. Rhys Davies is also a Manager of the Stwit theatre and was recovering from bowel cancer, but is now back in hospital.  They were both made defendants in these proceedings by Fox, despite their limited involvement in the production.

    The Defendants agreed to pay Fox the sum of £15,000 in damages...

    Despite incurring significant costs themselves, the Defendants offered to pay £10,000 towards the Claimants' costs in order to bring this matter to a conclusion.

    Michael McDonough
    TRW Asst VP Amateur Licensing
    New York

  • 2.  RE: Copyright Infringement 'The Greatest Showman' in the UK

    Posted 08-02-2019 08:31
    Given intellectual property law in the US and "set years after the events of the hit film" I wonder why this wasn't considered a new work. Obviously I'm not aware of details of character and such but it seems more original than derivative. 

    John (Jerf) Friedenberg
    Associate Teaching Professor
    Associate Teaching Professor
    Wake Forest University Dept of Theatre & Dance
    Winston-salem NC

  • 3.  RE: Copyright Infringement 'The Greatest Showman' in the UK

    Posted 08-03-2019 15:37
    This happened years ago at a major Atlanta theater with a production of Oklahoma. They were told to either cease production, restore it to the original or face a lawsuit. Protecting artistic work is serious and can be costly.

  • 4.  RE: Copyright Infringement 'The Greatest Showman' in the UK

    Posted 08-04-2019 10:32

    Even if it were "years after the events of the hit film," if it involved those (i.e. someone else's original) characters, it would violate copyright. I found a Facebook event for their production, which they called The Greatest Show LIVE, and it says this:

    "When P.T. Barnum loses his job after the company's bankruptcy, he sets out to finally give his family the life he promised them by reinventing himself as 'The Greatest Showman'. He starts putting together a circus, trying to create a show like nobody's ever seen before. But for a unique show, he'll need unique performers unafraid to stand out – after all, no-one ever made a difference by being like everyone else."

    It further promises that it presents "the hit music that is sweeping the nation" and will include "your favourite songs"--they even used the same font for their posters. Seems like a pretty textbook case of infringement. Even if the victim was a big studio this time, those same laws protect people like me and the many other playwrights on this board, who don't have hundreds of millions of dollars in assets and armies of lawyers. It's important that they are robustly enforced.


    Jonathan Dorf
    Playwright/ Co-founder of YouthPLAYS/ Co-chair of The Alliance Of Los Angeles Playwrights
    Los Angeles CA

  • 5.  RE: Copyright Infringement 'The Greatest Showman' in the UK

    Posted 08-04-2019 10:44
    Ahhh. Yes. Clearly derivative. Thanks for the additional information. 

    Sent from my iPhone

  • 6.  RE: Copyright Infringement 'The Greatest Showman' in the UK

    Posted 08-02-2019 12:42
    Just another example that things should be done legally. Don't try to mount your own productions of someone else's work without permission!

    Derek Pickens
    Director of Drama
    Charleston SC

  • 7.  RE: Copyright Infringement 'The Greatest Showman' in the UK

    Posted 08-05-2019 14:10
    Edited by James Van Leishout 08-05-2019 14:12

    Given Johnathan's description of the advertising the production, this is clearly a copyright violation. They could have done a "years later" story about Barnum with their own music. The musical Barnum didn't claim copyright infringement when The Greatest Showman was created, because PT Barnum is a historical figure. Derivative works can be viewed as their own work of art; the criteria though is originality. The new work needs to be substantially original. Which this work clearly was not.

    While this case may appear to be Goliath crushing David. There is a doctrine in copyright that says if you let something slide, then the next copyright infringer can argue, "You didn't care last time. Why now? Why me?"

    The current copyright law passed in 1998 allows for protection for the lifetime of the author plus 70 years. In the case of corporate authorship ("works for hire"), copyright persists for 120 years after creation or 95 years after publication, whichever is shorter. Filmmakers fall into the corporate category and it is generally held that the premiere triggers the copyright timeline.

    A unique aspect of the '98 law was that it was made retroactive to 1923. This extended protection to Disney's Steamboat Willie; so the law is often referred to as the Mickey Mouse Protection Act. On January 1, 2024 Mickey Mouse moves into public domain, after-all he turns 100 in 1929. In the next decade numerous famous works will enter public domain, including Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue,The Great Gatsby by F. Scoot Fitzgerald, and Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises. In the following decade, Snow White, Superman, and Batman join Mickey in public domain.

    It will be interesting to watch as these works, which are still making money, move out of copyright protection. Modern mass media and technology has extended the standard 20-year life-time of a work to beyond a hundred years.

    The 1998 law did not have many good arguments in its favor, but even less opposition. Now there are organized resistance to any extension. In 2018,   Ars Techinca, an online news source, broke the story that "that three of the nation's most powerful rights holder groups in the country, the Motion Picture Association of America, the Recording Industry Association of America, and the Authors Guild, were not even going to try to pass legislation extending copyrights."  Disney has yet to weigh in.

    As I said, it will be interesting to watch.

    James Van Leishout
    Olympia WA

  • 8.  RE: Copyright Infringement 'The Greatest Showman' in the UK

    Posted 08-06-2019 09:29

    Thanks for this post. I'm always surprised at the number of directors who think it's okay to copy and use material as long as it's for "educational purposes."   I put a faint Do Not Copy watermark across each page of every review script I send out. I had a couple of indignant emails asking how I expected them to be able to copy the script. My answer: I don't.

    I think that few people recognize how much work it takes on the writer's part to get a script ready for a production. I took one of my own neighbors to a staged reading with talkback to one of my own plays. She was amazed. She thought we sat down, wrote a script, then put it on the stage. Most writers I know go through hundreds of mini and major revisions. Peter Shaffer even revised "Amadeus" before its NYC opening when it had been in production for years and had won major awards--he just thought it could be better.

    The music industry does a pretty good job of policing the works it protects. You need to be careful about which songs you use for any productions--not just musicals--without permission and a fee. I've known companies at even small bistros get a warning from BMI, etc..

    Just my thoughts on the subject.

    Jean Klein
    Playwright/Founder HaveScripts/BlueMoonPlays
    Playwriting Teacher in MFA program, Wilkes University]
    Virginia BeachVA