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Anastasia Being Sued For Plagiarism

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12 months ago
Bill Hughes
Alex Meyer
  • Alex Meyer
    Mar 28th, 2015

    According to an article in the New York Post, the Broadway-bound musical Anastasia is being sued on grounds of plagiarism by the heir of playwright Marcelle Maurette, who wrote a play in 1952 called Anastasia also about Anastasia Romanoff. http://nypost.com/2016/12/10/anastasia-producers-sued-for-plagiarism/

    Jul 5th, 2011

    He’d have had better luck suing the film producers. At least it made money.

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    Bill Hughes
    Dec 20th, 2016

    a bit of theatrical irony, Hartford Stage appears to be embroiled in
    yet another copyright infringement claim, this time involving their own
    production of the new musical, Anastasia, as it moves forward to a
    Broadway opening a mere ten months after its premiere at Hartford Stage
    under the direction of Hartford Stage Artistic Director, Darko Tresnjak.
    In earlier interviews, Mr. Tresnjak stated that he had spent over two
    years developing the property with the writing team, and that they had
    the rights to both the animated feature and the original Fox movie with
    Helen Hayes and Ingrid Bergman. It appears the rights to the original
    source material, Marrcelle Maurette’s play, however, are in question.

    Their production is being sued by an heir of playwright Marcelle
    Maurette, who claims that the producers did not secure the licensing
    permission to create a new medium based on the play. Since the new
    musical is credited as being “inspired by” the two 20th-Century Fox
    films which were themselves licensed adaptations of the 1952 play,
    Maurette’s heirs are seeking an injunction to bar the show from opening
    until a licensing agreement can be reached. Stage Entertainment, which
    produces along with Tom Kirdahy and Bill Taylor, stated that there was
    no merit to the lawsuit and that the musical is based on the story of
    Anastasia Romanov’s life.

    As regards the characters depicted
    being historical persons, and thus beyond copyright protection, they
    appear to the contrary to be works of fiction and the author’s creation.
    DNA testing by multiple international laboratories such as the Armed
    Forces DNA Identification Laboratory and Innsbruck Medical University

    proved conclusively that all family members, including Anastasia, died
    in 1918. The parents and all five children are now accounted for, and
    each has his or her own unique DNA profile. The majority of the musical
    follows Anastasia into her mid-twenties. The real Anastasia died at

    Moving quickly to control the narrative, the show’s
    producers issued a statement in response to the lawsuit regarding their
    production and the original play: “…the works involved are not similar
    …the production went out of its way to explain these myriad
    differences to Mr. Becdelievre [Maurette’s heir] to resolve the issue.
    We look forward to responding to the claims in court.” The current
    musical’s producers state their production was “inspired by” the
    Twentieth Fox motion pictures, as opposed to “based on” or “adapted
    from”, terms that the motion pictures used regarding their relation to
    the original play. Both movies appear to have secured legal licensing of
    the origin material.

    Under Copyright law, a derivative work is a
    new, original product that includes aspects of a preexisting, already
    copyrighted work. Only copyright owners have the exclusive right to
    produce derivative works based on their original, copyrighted works.

    A brief timeline:

    In 1952, Marcelle Maurette wrote a play called Anastasia,[which toured
    Europe and America. The play was so successful that in 1956 the English
    translation/adaptation by Guy Bolton was made into a film, Anastasia.
    The plot revolves around a group of swindlers who attempt to raise money
    among Russian émigrés by pretending that Grand Duchess Anastasia is
    still alive. A suitable amnesiac, “Anna”, is groomed by the swindlers to
    impersonate Anastasia. Anna’s origins are unknown and as the play
    progresses hints are dropped that she could be the real Anastasia, who
    has lost her memory. The viewer is left to decide whether Anna really is

    In 1965, Anya, a credited musical adaptation of the Bolton/Maurette work opened on Broadway.

    In the 1997 animated musical fantasy Anastasia, the central character
    “Anya” is portrayed as the actual Grand Duchess Anastasia, even though
    the film was released after DNA tests proved that the real Anastasia had
    died with her family in 1918. The animated film was acknowledged and
    credited as “based on he play by Marcelle Maurette, as adapted by Guy
    Bolton; and the 1956 screenplay by Arthur Laurents” .

    One would
    imagine that this production, with its eye set no doubt on a repeat of
    Hartford Stage’s Tony winning A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,
    will seek to resolve this as quickly as possible.

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    Bill Hughes
    Dec 20th, 2016

    Both movies had obtained legal contracts for screen rights only regarding the original play. Since, the producers are reasonably sure of at least a Tony nomination, why shouldn’t the original author’s heir and holder of the origin material’s rights enjoy some of that possible future success. The musical version is apparently derivative and therefore in breech of copyright laws. The character as depicted in all three works is a fiction and does not follow the true story of Anastasisa, so using another author’s fictional character and their plot points is a legal violation.

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    Alex Meyer
    Mar 28th, 2015

    Update: A judge has denied the a motion for this lawsuit to be dismissed. However, Anastasia is still scheduled to begin previews on March 23. http://www.playbill.com/article/judge-denies-motion-to-dismiss-anastasia-plagiarism-suit

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