‘Jersey Boys’ producers win appeal over use of Ed Sullivan clip


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A federal appeals court ruled Monday that the makers of the Broadway musical “Jersey Boys” did not violate copyright law by using a short clip from ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ in the Tony-winning show.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decided unanimously that the holder of the copyright of ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ should reimburse the “Jersey Boys” producers for their legal costs in defending against the copyright lawsuit.


The panel’s decision upheld a district judge’s ruling. ‘Jersey Boys,’ which dramatized the history of the band the Four Seasons, used a seven-second clip at the end of the first act from a 1996 show of Sullivan introducing the band.

SOFA Entertainment Inc., which holds the copyright to the long-running, variety TV show, sued Dodger Productions Inc. for using the segment without authorization.

“Being selected by Ed Sullivan to perform on his show was evidence of the band’s enduring prominence in American music,” Judge Stephen S. Trott wrote for the court. “By using it as a biographical anchor, Dodger put the clip to its own transformative ends.”

The panel said it was appropriate to make the copyright holders, SOFA Entertainment Inc., pay the defendant’s $155,000 cost to defend itself because such lawsuits can chill creativity.


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Photo: Left to right, Nick Massi (J. Robert Spencer), Frankie Valli (David Norona), Bob Gaudio (Daniel Reichard) and Tommy DeVito (Christian Hoff) in a scene from ‘Jersey Boys’ at La Jolla Playhouse. Credit: Scott Humbert.