Corbello v. Valli, No. 12-16733 (9th Cir. 2015)Annotate this Case
Rex Woodard entered into a written agreement to ghostwrite the autobiography (the "Work") of Thomas DeVito, one of the original members of the "Four Seasons" band later known as "Jersey Boys." After Woodward passed away, DeVito registered the Work with the U.S. Copyright Office solely under his own name in 1991. DeVito and another former "Four Seasons" band member, Nicholas Macioci, executed an agreement with two of their former bandmates, Frankie Valli and Bob Gaudio, which granted Valli and Gaudio the exclusive rights to use aspects of their lives to develop a musical stage performance (the "Play") about the "Four Seasons." Plaintiff, Woodward's widow, subsequently filed suit alleging that the Play constitutes, at least in part, a "derivative work" of the DeVito autobiography, the right to create which resides exclusively in the copyright-holders of the underlying work, and their lawful successors, assignees, and licensees. The court concluded that the 1999 Agreement constitutes a transfer of ownership of DeVito's derivative-work right in the Work to Valli and Gaudio; Sybersound Records, Inc. v. UAV Corp. presents no obstacle to DeVito's exclusive transfer of his derivative-work right to Valli and Gaudio under the 1999 Agreement; copyright co-owners must account to one another for any profits earned by exploiting that copyright; and, therefore, the district court erred in rejecting plaintiff's claims for accounting and declaratory relief. Further, defendants have necessarily failed to establish the existence of a license as an affirmative defense to plaintiff's infringement action. The court also concluded that summary judgment for defendants on plaintiff's claims of infringement under foreign law grounds must be reversed. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants, vacated its assessment of costs against plaintiff, and remanded for further proceedings.