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Julie Taymor sues 'Spider-Man' producers

FILE - In this June 14, 2011 file photo, Julie Taymor arrives at the opening night performance of the Broadway musical 'Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark' in New York. Taymor has filed a lawsuit against the producers of “Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark,” alleging they violated her creative rights and haven't compensated her for the work she put into the musical. FILE - In this June 14, 2011 file photo, Julie Taymor arrives at the opening night performance of the Broadway musical "Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark" in New York. Taymor has filed a lawsuit against the producers of “Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark,” alleging they violated her creative rights and haven't compensated her for the work she put into the musical. (AP Photo/Charles Sykes, file)
By Mark Kennedy
AP Drama Writer / November 8, 2011

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NEW YORK—Director Julie Taymor sued the producers and her former co-book writer of "Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark" on Tuesday, saying they violated her creative rights and haven't compensated her for the work she put into Broadway's most expensive musical. She is seeking a minimum of $1 million.

Charles Spada, an attorney who filed the suit on behalf of the Tony Award-winning director, said Tuesday in a statement that "the producers' actions have left her no choice but to resort to legal recourse to protect her rights."

The copyright infringement lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, seeks "compensatory and statutory damages, a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief."

In a statement, lead producers Michael Cohl and Jeremiah J. Harris disputed Taymor's allegations, saying "the production has indeed compensated Ms. Taymor for her contribution as a co-book writer." They added that "the court system will provide, once and for all, an opportunity to resolve this dispute."

Taymor was not available to comment. Spada did not return phone calls and e-mail messages seeking additional comment.

The lawsuit seeks half of all profits, gains and advantages derived from the sale, license, transfer or lease of any rights in the original "Spider-Man" book along with a permanent ban of the use of Taymor's name or likeness in connection with a documentary film that was made of the birth of the musical without her written consent.

It also seeks a jury trial to determine her share of profits from the unauthorized use of her version of the superhero story, which the lawsuit said was believed to be in excess of $1 million.

Taymor, who had been the "Spider-Man" director and co-book writer, was fired from the $75 million musical that features music by U2's Bono and The Edge in March after years of delays, accidents and critical backlash. It opened in November but spent months in previews before opening a few days after the Tony Awards in June.

Philip William McKinley, who directed the Hugh Jackman musical "The Boy From Oz," in 2003, was hired to steer the ship. He was billed as creative consultant when the musical opened.

The stunt-heavy and expensive show has been doing brisk business ever since, most weeks easily grossing more than the $1.2 million the producers have indicated they need to reach to stay viable. Last week, it took in $1.4 million, and 86 percent of the 1,930-seat Foxwoods Theatre was filled.

According to Spada's statement, "producers have failed to compensate Ms. Taymor for their continued use of her work to date, despite the fact that the show has consistently played to capacity or near-capacity houses since its first public performance in November 2010."

The lawsuit said the producers continued to "promote, use, change and revise" her work, including the book of the musical, without her approval. It said that her contracts called for no changes to be made without her consent. She also is suing Glen Berger, her former collaborator on the musical's story.

According to the lawsuit, the producers' lawyers belatedly sent Taymor a check for $52,880 on Nov. 4, purportedly as payment of her co-bookwriter royalties for performances of the musical through April 17, the last performance of the show before the revisions.

"The producers, however, continue to refuse to pay Taymor any royalties for performances after April 17, 2011," the lawsuit said. It said she is owed more than $70,000 additional book royalties to date, along with royalties of nearly $3,000 per week for performances.

The lawsuit said nearly one quarter of the new "Spider-Man" book is copied verbatim from Taymor's original book. It claims producers have kept her name on promotional materials such as billboards and merchandise "while refusing to compensate Taymor as she is entitled."

Taymor's lawsuit comes less than a week after the Tony Awards Administration Committee ruled that only Taymor will be considered eligible for the show's Tony for best direction of a musical category. The lawsuit said the awards committee rejected the producer's contention that McKinley had changed the musical into a "new" production.

Taymor, who also helmed "The Lion King," is also seeking compensation through the union that represents theater directors. The Stage Directors and Choreographers Society filed an arbitration claim in June against the show's producers over unpaid royalties.

The legal fights are in contrast to the wide smiles and hugs shared by the creative team, who reunited on opening night on the red carpet and "Spider-Man" stage. In the months since then, Taymor hasn't spoken at length about the behind-the-scenes turmoil, but has said she is still proud of the show and is not bitter.

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National Writer Jocelyn Noveck and Associated Press writer Larry Neumeister contributed to this report.