It is somewhat ironic that The Four Seasons success story started with litigation and is finishing with a trial more than 50 years later!
After The Four Seasons burst onto the pop music scene with three Nr 1's they ended 1963 in litigation with Vee-Jay .The 1963 litigation over non-payment of royalties gave them control of their original master recordings which has provided an income stream throughout their careers whilst now they face potential losses of many millions of dollars if the current trial goes against them. Over 50 years later they find themselves once again locked in litigation after the second major success of their lives 'Jersey Boys', the show of the story and music of their lives . In a unique breach of copyright trial over their own story as compiled by fan Rex Woodard with Four Seasons member Tommy De Vito they find themselves in a trial for alleged breach of copyright of Rex's joint work.
Badly behaving record companies failing to pay royalties and abusing artists rights is a familiar story from the earliest days of the music industry but it was rife during the 60s. The Four Seasons with Bob Crewe took on Vee-Jay with such a claim in 1963.
And again in the 1970s with recording companies charging the cost of recording sessions against artists royalties it is claimed that during their stay at Motown in the 70s when they had no hits but recorded over 70 songs they ended their association (after a 3 year contract )after receiving no record label royalties in 1974. But at least they had their reputations intact and long-standing fans buying their early litigation proceeds and a new line-up setting the charts alight.
This current litigation puts those past money arguments into the shade though. The long running litigation over the Jersey Boys claimed 'source' document 'The Work' has been in and out of court for as long as Jersey Boys has been a major hit with some amazing revelations as Eriq Gardner summarises in his 'The Hollywood Reporter' article
That explains (with links to the court papers) how the case has developed and it is now coming to a jury trial in September . Several of us in the UK Society knew Rex Woodard as a fan, collector and writer since the 1970s and his articles re the Four Seasons 'history' provide more detail and inside knowledge of the group than any articles that have appeared in the history of the group. He was the fountain of knowledge re The Four Seasons along with Ed Engel and Walt Gollender. But Rex is the only man to write the history of The Four Lovers and The Four Seasons. He did this in Billboard magazine in the early 1980s. These articles remain the most in-depth description of their history. No biograpies have ever emerged of anyone 'connected' with the group. For many decades deliberate concealment was a policy.
Looking at the forthcoming trial,and the presentation of the facts and arguments from the long-standing fans perspective there are some observations that stand-out.
Firstly, it always seemed obvious that Rex was the main(or ghost writer) of 'The Work'. His notes and in-depth study of the group goes back to the 1950s and clearly Tommy De Vito was not skilled enough as a writer to produce the 'bio'. Frankie and Bob knew Tommy and must have known he did not posses the literary skills. So when Tommy changed the cover of 'The Works' to delete Rex's name was he being anything other than he is portrayed as in the Jersey Boys play.? Well Rex had passed away so what is the harm he may have thought? Even though there was a written contract saying profits from the story would be shared by both parties and their 'heirs'. But when Jersey Boys emerged Rex's widow (and lawyers) established the identical work had been handed to the scriptwriters. Rex's contribution has happily been confirmed by the copyright office and Rex's royalties share of Tommy's rights will (if this case confirms 'The Work's use in the play script) pass to Rex's widow.
Secondly, the consideration of 'thin' copyright due to the facts of the Four Seasons history being in the public domain is an arguable point. It suggests the 'story' within Jersey Boys was factual-historically and such facts are not subject to copyright but the judge does state that the story within 'The Work' did not exist before the collaboration by Rex and Tommy. Any long-term fan will confirm many aspects of this bio were not known or in the 'public domain' until the premier of Jersey Boys a fact that may see 'The Work' as a whole to have been utilised by the writers. Take for example the links to Gyp Di Carlo. The Four Seasons had for decades hidden any association with the mob for fear that this would damage their reputation with fans and subsequently record sales. In our study of the story of the group through the 1970s(The Rise and Fall of The NEW Four Seasons) we noted the one and only published reference in our huge collection of articles going back to the 1960s republished in UK fan club Newsletters since the 1970s(Nrs 1 to 68) . Even Rex in the 1980s helped cover it up.
I'm quoting now......“Rex Woodard again re 1973...”On 13 July convicted felon and “stoolie” Gerald Zeimanowitz testified before a US Senate Sub Committee that the Four Seasons were connected with the Mafia. Allegedly, according to Zeimanowitz, mobster Angelo “Gyp” DeCarlo of New Jersey owned a “piece” of the band. DeCarlo had been imprisoned in 1970 but pardoned by President Nixon in 1972. Zeimanowitz, however, really had his facts mixed up judging from his testimony, and probably confused the Four Seasons with another act (Valli, when asked about the charge kept his humour: He just wanted to know why his career was going so lousy despite these so-called friends in influential positions!).” Valli was very sensitive to this news and was concerned it would alienate his fans if found to be true. Now he admits involvement in the ‘Jersey Boys’ play and the association seems of little harm to him. In fact it is a core part of the play's storyline and success.
So any connection was covered up then and kept that way. It even extended to censoring the fans. Since the 1970s any connection with The Four Seasons Partnership was always fraught and during the 1990s their lawyer sought to control fan contact with former group members particularly during the early days of the internet when Frank Rovello, Stuart Miller and I were 'banned' from speaking to former members of the group if 'official' recognition of the fan club(s) was to be granted. Was this to suppress potentially damaging stories about links with the mafia?. Well they were suppressed and 'The Works' was the first time that the relationship was explored......but never published. That is until the Jersey Boys play was written. Did Valli and Gaudio tell the scriptwriters the story or is it derived from 'The Work'? That will presumably be the jury's job to identify.
Whether the 'story' told by Rex in 'The Work' was 'copied' in Jersey Boys and was a breach of copyright remains to be seen but the reputational damage caused by this case may be far reaching. Did Valli and Gaudio and De Vito rip-off a dead fan?.
The fact is that Rex did the most in-depth writing of any Four Seasons fan to tell the group's story and every 'true' fan will appreciate that. And Frank Rovello and Stuart Miller did their part in getting what they could into the public domain. Though they have all passed away now they remain to me the real heroes who wanted the truth for the fans. With one objective. To put the music recorded in the hands of the true fans and enable them to understand the context of it's creation and appreciate everyone's contribution. That has been the objective of the UK Appreciation Society and this blog. The music is all that counts....the rest is the back-story. The choices in life Valli, Gaudio, De Vito and Massi made are how life went for them and they are accountable for.
And ironically that back-story has made the 3 surviving members of the group multi-millionaires and earned them more than their music ever did in the previous decades before the launch of 'Jersey Boys'. The show however remains a wonderful entertainment and this case will show everyone's contribution.Without doubt that success has changed Valli and Gaudio as they have been heralded now as music 'icons'. Do they think a jury would never find against them? Did they know of Rex Woodard's contribution to 'The Work'?. And was this shows major success in good part on the back of a fans research? Whatever happens this case will be a sobering close to their amazing lives We'll watch and listen with great interest . Casey Chameleon