Oh What a Tangled Web: Does Julie Taymor have a valid copyright in Spider-Man?

The backstage drama, from the classic 1950 film All About Eve to the new television hit Smash, is an oft employed narrative convention filled with juicy melodrama between show business colleagues set to the backdrop of a spectacular stage production. The copyright infringement lawsuit filed in late 2011 by internationally acclaimed theater and film director Julie Taymor against her former co-collaborators of the hit Broadway musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark proves that the cliché has strong roots in reality. Taymor, famous for her Tony-award winning stage adaption of Disney’s The Lion King as well as her film directorial efforts (including her Academy Award-nominated film Frida), signed on to direct the Spider-Man musical in the early stages of its development. The show, yet another re-telling of Marvel Comics' famous web-slinging crime fighter’s origin, is set to the music of Paul David Hewson and David Howell Evans, more commonly known as Bono and The Edge of the legendary rock band U2. The production, rumored to have cost as much as $75 million to mount (the most ever for a Broadway show), was famously plagued by technical and creative troubles as well as a spate of injuries to cast members during its preview run, which began in late 2010. Taymor notoriously ceased working on the production in April 2011.

The complaint paints a scene of secretive, back-stabbing collaborators, furtively plotting to revise Taymor’s work without her permission. Not surprisingly, the defendants, producers of the production, allege a very different story. By their account, Taymor was uncompromising and uncooperative. They claim she was focused more on her desire to weave into the plot the tale of Arachne, culled from Greek mythology, than she was in telling the well-known legend of how Peter Parker was transformed by a radioactive spider bite. They go so far as to allege that she once exclaimed, “I don’t give a f#*! about audience reaction!”

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