June 1 (Bloomberg) -- “The judge will be swinging in from the backroom,” a courtroom deputy joked in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.
The remark came before a two-hour hearing today in a case pitting producers of “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” against the Broadway musical’s former director, Julie Taymor, who was fired in March 2011 after critics lambasted the show.
Judge Katherine Forrest entered on foot from her chambers, and nine lawyers eventually appeared before her. Most of the arguments were devoted to the producers’ motion to dismiss part of Taymor’s November 2011 suit, in which she alleges that the producers unlawfully used her 2004 treatment as a basis for the $75 million musical.
Forrest, who said she has a 10-year-old son and knows “a lot about superheroes,” said she would rule on the motion soon, without being specific.
The two-and-a-half-page treatment, which Taymor registered in 2005 with the U.S. Copyright Office, was based on “Spider-Man” comics introduced in 1962 and the first film, released in 2002, argued Dale Cendali, a lawyer for the producers.
“The whole darn thing came from the comics,” she said, adding that act one in the show is a retelling of the movie.
“What they’re trying to do is put a lien on the ‘Spider-Man’ property, which is unprecedented,” Cendali said. “They can’t monopolize ‘Spider-Man.’ They don’t own ‘Spider-Man.’”
Charles Spada, a lawyer for Taymor, pointed to the character of the mythic spider-woman Arachne as an example of Taymor departing from the classic “Spider-Man” story. He disputed the producers’ claim that Arachne was based on a character named Shakira, first introduced in the comics.
“Arachne is a unique character,” he said.
The producers seek to dismiss Taymor’s claim that they copied and performed portions of her treatment without permission and without paying her. Her claim that they used part of her original book, which she wrote with Glen Berger, without her permission would go to trial.
Should the judge dismiss the claim regarding the treatment, “it would just be a contractual case,” Cendali said.
Spada countered: “This is an important brick but there are many other bricks in this foundation.”
Neither Taymor nor the lead producers -- Michael Cohl and Jeremiah Harris -- attended the hearing. Although producers haven’t paid her author royalties, they previously reached a settlement over director fees.
“Spider-Man” sold $1.5 million of tickets in the week ending on Sunday. It was the fifth-bestselling show on Broadway, after “Wicked,” “The Lion King,” “Evita” and “The Book of Mormon.”
The case is Taymor v. 8 Legged Productions LLC, 1:11-cv-08002-RJH, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
Muse highlights include Lewis Lapham on books and Greg Evans on movies.
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