Twentieth Century Fox has settled a copyright dispute with a Welsh community theatre over an adaptation of The Greatest Showman, following legal proceedings that put the venue at risk of closure.
Lawyers have accused the US corporation of issuing “grossly disproportionate” legal action against the theatre, likened to “using a sledgehammer to crack a nut”.
The case centres on a fictional version of The Greatest Showman, set years after the events of the film, which ran in July 2018 at the 490-seat Stiwt Theatre in Wrexham, North Wales.
Across seven performances, the show made approximately £40,000 in ticket sales.
In September 2018, family run events company Cyclone Events Limited, which produced the show, and Stiwt Arts Trust Limited, which runs the theatre, discovered they faced High Court proceedings from Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation for copyright infringement.
According to law firm Virtuoso Legal, which was representing the theatre and events companies, the defendants “immediately held up their hands” and accepted liability for copyright infringement before proceedings were issued.
However Twentieth Century Fox, represented by Wiggin LLP, went ahead to issue High Court proceedings, citing that the claim against the theatre was “worth in excess of £200,000”.
Fox paid a fee of £10,000 to issue the legal proceedings, but lawyers for the defendant claim its court fee should have only been in the hundreds “if Fox’s representatives had been realistic about the value of Fox’s claim from the outset”.
According to Virtuoso Legal, Fox not only issued a claim against Cyclone Events Limited and Stiwt Arts Trust Limited, but also the individual directors, “[causing] all the defendants much distress over the course of a year, as any personal assets would be on the line”.
As a result of the proceedings, Cyclone Events Limited went bust.
After further dispute between the parties, the case was transferred from the High Court to the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court.
The parties settled the proceedings this month, “once Twentieth Century Fox started to become (a little) more realistic about the value of its damages claim”, said lawyers.
The defendants agreed to pay £15,000 in damages and £10,000 towards Fox’s legal costs, which were estimated to total more than £100,000.
A public fundraising page has been set up to help the defendants meet their legal costs.
Philip Partington, director of Virtuoso Legal and head of its disputes department, said: “These proceedings have been deeply regretful to witness over the last year. The defendants clearly made an early set of mistakes in the showing of their version of the Greatest Showman.
“However, in my view, they were simply naïve in their desire to put on a local theatre production for predominately children, rather than some sort of criminal mastermind infringement operation.”
“Unfortunately, Twentieth Century Fox did not see the case this way and embarked on a wholly disproportionate set of proceedings.”
Partington added: “If Fox had been more reasonable at the outset, these proceedings could have been settled within a month, rather than dragging on for almost a year, and in the process risk the closure of a local community theatre and costing Fox well over £100,000.”
Twentieth Century Fox has been contacted for comment.