MTI Calls B.S. on Local Theatre Head's Claims

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Last week, it was discovered that Music Theatre International had filed a lawsuit against Theaterpalooza Community Theatre Productions Inc in the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia for presenting at least 16 unauthorized productions of MTI titles over the past three years.

In response to the suit, owner and director, Teresa Walker foolishly stated the following:

“It is a billing issue, and we want to make arrangements and pay,” Walker said. “Ten of the shows we never produced, and some of the shows are our own versions. We have now taken all of their shows off our schedule. We do a lot of original shows and have our own writers on staff.”

Walker said this is “very embarrassing” and that she has tried to be in compliance.
 
“We have had financial issues over the years, but we are doing wonderful things for children here. For the last four years we have brought children to Carnegie Hall, and we have great after-school programs with singing, dancing, acting, professional tutoring and piano lessons.”

In response to questions about additional legal issues in Loudoun County, including lawsuits alleging non-payment of rent, Walker said they are “complicated issues.”

 Teresa Walker

Teresa Walker

“We have built our own theater in Ashburn and we want children to love the arts. We are doing wonderful things for children and produce sold-out shows,” Walker said.

Well, apparently her statements seem to conflict with MTI's side of the story. Today they released a press statement which counters Ms. Walker's comments. Here they are:

Recently, press reports about the lawsuit have appeared. Some of the reports include statements from Teresa Walker, the owner of Theaterpalooza, that contain false or misleading information about the lawsuit. In response to Ms. Walker's comments, MTI has released the below statements:

  • "It's a billing issue" about "slow to pay"

Contrary to published reports, the dispute is not about a billing issue or about Theaterpalooza being slow to pay. Theaterpalooza was warned repeatedly in writing that it could not use copyrighted works without a license, and it was asked to stop infringing and to pay for past infringing use. It ignored six written requests over three years. That was not a mistake. It was not a misunderstanding. It was a willful course of conduct evidencing deliberate infringement and a violation of author's rights.

  • Theaterpalooza has "tried to be in compliance"

Also contrary to published reports, Theaterpalooza made no effort to "be in compliance" after receiving notice or before the lawsuit was filed. For example, Ms. Walker initially promised to pay for her unlicensed production of Mary Poppins. Even though MTI repeatedly sent her an invoice, she never paid. Instead, Theaterpalooza continued advertising and promoting its productions of unlicensed copyrighted works.

  • We are "working with MTI's attorneys."

Despite repeated written requests over a 3-1/2 year period, neither Theaterpalooza nor its lawyers ever responded to MTI's requests before the lawsuit was filed. Since the suit was filed, Theaterpalooza has refused to file an answer within the time provided by the Court. No attorney for Theaterpalooza ever has contacted MTI's attorneys.

  • "We've settled this."

Ms. Walker asserts that a payment plan for back fees has been worked out. Not true.

  • "[W]e're not trying to get over on anyone and not pay writers"

That is what the company claims, but in fact that is exactly what it has been doing for over 3-1/2 years, ignoring repeated requests to stop the infringement while it continued to advertise unlicensed works without authorization, and without seeking a license or paying a license fee. One of the reasons MTI commenced this legal action is to protect the rights of those performing groups who understand and fulfill their obligations to legally license what they perform. Theaterpalooza's conduct is simply unfair to those other groups who abide by the law.

  • These are "complicated issues".

Ms. Walker admits to "financial issues over the years," but when asked about lawsuits alleging non-payment of rent, Ms. Walker simply said they are "complicated issues." However, there is nothing complicated about renting space or renting intellectual property. If you use someone else's property, you need to pay for it.

Ms. Walker admits to having a writing staff and producing sold-out shows while helping tuition-paying students through professional tutoring and piano lessons. We assume Ms. Walker pays her professional staff. We also assume Ms. Walker expects payment when she charges admission or licenses her productions for performances in other communities. MTI expects the same on behalf of its authors.

MTI President Drew Cohen explained in announcing the lawsuit that "[a]t MTI, we promote artistic expression by ensuring that every copyrighted work is properly licensed for performance." He adds that for that reason, "we cannot allow companies like Theaterpalooza to skirt the licensing process and the legal process while they profit illegally from the originality of writers. We also want to make sure the public knows that Teresa Walker and her company have no right to be advertising unlicensed works."

"We want children to love the arts the rest of their lives."

We do too. But that can't happen unless we support the creative community that creates these wonderful musicals. That's all we are trying to do.

I've spoken to some in the community that have said Ms. Walker has had a history of issues with her theatre endeavors. It looks like some bad practices and not being honest have finally caught up with her. 

Obviously this a problem. Given how much Walker charges kids to be in her shows(upwards to $600) one has to wonder - if MTI isn't getting paid, where is the money going? 

I admit this is the first time I've seen an American community theatre company be so brazen in their refusal to pay copyright for theatrical productions. And I don't think the situation is going to get any better anytime soon.

My suggestion to families in the area: Demand to know where and how your money has been spent.