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Abbott and Costello heirs lose lawsuit over puppet monologue

The heirs of comedy team Abbott and Costello recently lost in court after filing a lawsuit regarding what is possibly the duo's most famous skit. The lawsuit alleged that Broadway musical "Hand to God" lifted material from the skit "Who's on First." According to reports, parts of the pun-filled skit were either paraphrased or repeated by a puppet to add some bit of comedy to what is, otherwise, a darker show.

The Broadway show opened in April 2015. Heirs of the estate had cease-and-desist orders issued to attempt to stop the show after learning of the inclusion of the material. The heirs claimed that the playwright used Abbot and Costello copyrighted material without seeking proper permission or making compensation for the use.

A judge dismissed the suit. In his ruling, he stated that the material used in the show did not, as the plaintiffs alleged, use the "very heart" of the skit. Instead, the judge stated that the new material transformed enough of the old material, providing a new spin and new light on it, to make the new material something different.

While this case did not go in the plaintiff's favor, it is a good example of how heirs must continue to protect their rights long after an estate might be considered settled. Estates that contain creative assets or long-term investments can be active for decades. Even if estates don't contain such items, probate litigation might be necessary for heirs who believe wills are not being honored or that a presented will is not valid. Working with someone experienced with estate law can help you understand whether an issue might be present.

Source: Broadway World, "Broadway's HAND TO GOD Wins Lawsuit Over Abbott & Costello's 'Who's on First?'," Jessica Khan, Dec. 17, 2015

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