Global theatrical licensorMusic Theatre International (MTI) has been awarded $450,000 plus attorney’s fees by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia for its complaint against Theaterpalooza Community Theater Productions, Inc. On June 1, 2018, MTI filed a federal copyright infringement complaint against Theaterpalooza after the company ignored repeated requests to its owner, Teresa Walker, over a period of 3-1/2 years calling for a halt to the company’s infringing acts, using copyrighted materials without a license, and not paying for use of copyrighted works. MTI filed suit reluctantly and only after other more diplomatic avenues proved fruitless.
Theaterpalooza failed to license performances of at least 16 well-known musicals including such MTI-licensed musicals as Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka, Matilda, Seussical, Little Shop of Horrors, Honk! and many others, while openly promoting but still refusing payment for upcoming performances of three additional MTI-licensed shows, Annie, Mamma Mia! and Hairspray. Theaterpalooza operates in and around Ashburn, Virginia, Leesburg, Virginia, and Hagerstown, Maryland.
The finding by the Magistrate Judge, adopted by the court, states: “As early as January 12, 2015, Defendant (Theaterpalooza) was aware of Plaintiffs’ (MTI) copyrights and that it was infringing on those rights. Defendant disregarded those rights and continued to perform and advertise copyrighted material. Thus, the undersigned Magistrate Judge finds that Defendant willfully infringed on Plaintiffs’ protected works.”
On January 12, 2015 Ms. Walker initially claimed that “(we) had no idea that this is illegal.” The Magistrate Judge also concluded that “Ms. Walker told Loudoun County reporters that she is ‘in talks with (Plaintiffs),’ and ‘she has been working with MTI’s attorneys for several weeks to resolve the issue.’ Those statements are untrue.”
MTI has received an outpouring of support from authors, other theatres and schools who properly license and pay for authors’ works. MTI intends to donate a portion of the damages collected to Jumpstart Theatre, which helps create theatre programs in underserved communities.
“We are pleased that the court recognized the vital importance of protecting authors’ rights to license their work and condemned the ongoing behavior of Theaterpalooza in this case” stated Drew Cohen, President and CEO of Music Theatre International. “MTI actively endeavors to prevent this kind of piracy because of the economic harm it causes our family of authors and the lack of fairness it imposes on our legitimate customers. MTI has received wonderful encouragement for this legal action from the Broadway community as well as from our customers, all of whom contribute both to the creation and to the performance of musical theatre every day. Being able to support EdTA’s Jumpstart program with the proceeds from this lawsuit is the icing on the cake.”
MTI was represented by Steven Hollman, Ed Komen and James Bierman in the Washington, DC office of Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP, an international firm with offices in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, New York, Washington, DC, Chicago, Dallas, London, Brussels, Shanghai and Seoul.