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Thomson v. Larson
United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
147 F.3d 195 (1998)
Billy Aronson and Jonathan Larson collaborated on the musical Rent. When the two parted ways, they entered a written agreement under which Larson would be credited as the author of Rent, with the original concept and additional lyrics credited to Aronson. Larson brought Rent to the New York Theatre Workshop (NYTW). Larson opposed NYTW’s attempts to hire another writer to revise the script before Larson eventually agreed to NYTW’s hiring of Lynn Thomson (plaintiff) as a dramaturg, whose services included making thematic and structural suggestions to clarify the musical’s storyline. NYTW paid Thomson $2,000 for these services. A contract between NYTW and Larson identified Larson as the sole author of Rent, including approval rights and ownership over any changes made to the text. Larson suddenly died. Thomson attempted to negotiate with Larson’s surviving family members—Allan Larson, Nanette Larson, and Julie Larson McCollum (the heirs) (defendants)—for a share of the royalties from Rent. These negotiations failed. Thomson then brought suit in district court, seeking a declaration that she was the coauthor of Rent and entitled to 16 percent royalties. The court found in favor of the heirs. Thomson appealed. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit granted certiorari.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Calabresi, J.)
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