Mantello and Caldwell Theatre Settle L!V!C! Case; Issues Still Unresolved

News   Mantello and Caldwell Theatre Settle L!V!C! Case; Issues Still Unresolved
 
Directorial elements of Joe Mantello's Broadway staging of Love! Valour! Compassion!, borrowed by director Michael Hall for a 1996 staging by the Caldwell Theatre Company in Boca Raton, FL, belong to Mantello and deserve compensation.

Directorial elements of Joe Mantello's Broadway staging of Love! Valour! Compassion!, borrowed by director Michael Hall for a 1996 staging by the Caldwell Theatre Company in Boca Raton, FL, belong to Mantello and deserve compensation.

Or at least that's the conclusion of Mantello and the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers (SSDC) after Hall and Caldwell agreed, in a March 22 out of-court settlement, to pay Mantello a full director's fee. Mantello had initially sued for $250,000; the New York Times reported the settlement amount to be about $7,500. The settlement, which included pension and health contributions to the directors' union benefits fund, avoids a protracted trial.

In the settlement, Hall agreed to acknowledge the unauthorized use of "certain elements" created by Mantello. However, the SSDC also apologized for accusing Caldwell Theatre of sending spies down to Broadway specifically to copy elements of Mantello's staging and backstage design.

A statement released on behalf of the SSDC (March 26) noted that the settlement included payment of some of Mantello's litigation expenses. However, Caldwell attorney Bill McCarthy told Playbill On-Line (April 16), "We did not pay his attorney's fees. Each side bears its own costs and attorneys fees. We made a $7500 cash settlement -- which was less than we offered him in the beginning; he could have had that on day one."

Mantello has said proceeds from the settlement will be donated to the SSDC's apprenticeship programs. Responding to McCarthy's spin on the settlement, Mantello attorney Ronald Shechtman stressed that the monetary payment was "in excess of the directorial fee that would have otherwise been due" for that theater.

McCarthy also stressed that the out-of-court settlement didn't actually resolve any of the issues at stake involving directorial copyright. "The legal issues asserted by both parties have not been resolved by the court," reads the Settlement Agreement, issued by the United States District Court, Southern District of Florida.

"The SSDC wants to make it sound like we admitted to using Mantello's stage directions. We did not, and there's nothing in the joint statement to that effect," said McCarthy. "It says certain elements of the New York production were created by Mantello. It does not say `stage directions.' The problem is Mantello was calling everything stage directions. As the joint statement says, none of the legal issues have been resolved. No precedent has been set by this case."

Attorney Shechtman countered that the very fact the case made it to a court decision (despite efforts by the Caldwell to dismiss), means a director can state a claim that his directions constitute "protectible intellectual property under the Copyright Act and the Lanham Act."

The property rights litigation initiated by SSDC on Mantello's behalf began in 1996. Hall testified he believed that he had the right to use ground plans, pictures prop lists and other materials which he obtains with scripts of plays without getting permission from the designers or directors, according to the SSDC.

For a while, it looked as though the case might be headed for court and a precedent-setting decision. Unlike dramatists and choreographers, directors can not claim copyrights on the work they contribute to a production, and no court has ever ruled on whether such work constitutes "intellectual property." For now, it looks as though that question remains undecided.

"I hope that this case will dispel the idea that original, artistic contributions by directors and designers to the play, which are not part of the text of the play, can be used or appropriated without permission," said SSDC president Ted Pappas, in a statement.

Asked how the court case might affect future shows staged at the Caldwell, attorney McCarthy told PBOL, "It will probably have an effect. We'll be much more cautious of the reliance we put on the licensed script we get. A big bone of contention in the trial was that we relied on all the information provided with the license and the script. They wanted us to rely just on the text (costumes, props, set schematics). They claimed the licensor didn't have the right to put that in their package. When we pay for a script, we use what they send us -- and those issues have not yet been resolved.

On the positive side for Caldwell, the company recently finished paying the mortgage -- $1.8 million -- on three acres of nearby property. The hope is to build on that site, while a developer (Lefmark) purchases the current Caldwell home and builds a retail center there.

-- By Kenneth Jones
and David Lefkowitz

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