Corbello v. Vallli, No. 17-16337 (9th Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
Four Seasons front man Frankie Valli and other defendants associated with Jersey Boys did not infringe Rex Woodard's copyright in the autobiography of Tommy DeVito, now owned by Donna Corbello, Woodard's surviving wife.
The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment, after a jury trial in favor of defendants, on the sole ground that Jersey Boys did not infringe DeVito's biography, and so the panel did not reach the district court's fair use rationale. The panel rests its decision primarily on the unremarkable proposition that facts, in and of themselves, may not form the basis for a copyright claim. In this case, each of the alleged similarities between the Play and the Work are based on historical facts, common phrases and scenes-a-faire, or elements that were treated as facts in the Work and are thus unprotected by copyright, even though now challenged as fictional. The panel explained that neither Valli nor the other defendants violated Corbello's copyright by depicting in the Play events in their own lives that are also documented in the Work. Therefore, because the Play did not copy any protected elements of the Work, there was no copyright infringement.
Court Description: Copyright. Affirming the district court’s judgment after a jury trial in favor of defendants, the panel held that the musical Jersey Boys did not infringe plaintiff’s copyright in an autobiography of Tommy DeVito, a member of the band the Four Seasons. The musical depicted the history of the Four Seasons. The district court granted judgment as a matter of law on the basis that much of the alleged infringement concerned unprotected elements of the work, and that any infringement of protected elements was fair use. The panel affirmed on the sole ground that the musical did not infringe the autobiography, and did not reach fair use. The panel held that facts cannot form the basis for a copyright claim. On close examination, each of the alleged similarities between the musical and the autobiography were based on historical facts, common phrases, and scenes-a- faire, or elements that were treated as facts in the autobiography and were thus unprotected by copyright, even CORBELLO V. VALLI 3 though now challenged as fictional. Adopting an “asserted truths” doctrine, the panel held that an author who holds their work out as nonfiction cannot later claim, in litigation, that aspects of the work were actually made up and thus entitled to full copyright protection. Because the musical did not copy any protected elements of the autobiography, the panel concluded, there was no copyright infringement.