Zorro Copyright Rights Challenged by Playwright

Man who wrote musical based on Zorro says he's being intimidated by group that falsely claims to hold rights to the character

A duel is brewing over who does and doesn't own the rights to the legendary character Zorro. But instead of swords, the combatants are wielding the law.

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Playwright Robert Cabell has filed suit against Zorro Productions, Inc., alleging  that the organization is falsely claiming rights to the masked avenger.

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In his lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Western Washington on Wednesday, Cabell — who wrote a 1996 musical "Z — The Musical of Zorro" — claims that the organization has "fraudulently obtained federal trademark registrations for various 'Zorro' marks" and "built a licensing empire out of smoke and mirrors."

At the same time, Cabell contends, Zorro Productions Inc., has engaged in "a campaign of intimidation and coercion" to prevent him from using the Zorro character in his work.

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The suit claims that Cabell's musical is based on the 1919 Johnston McCulley book "The Curse of Capistrano" and the 1920 Douglas Fairbanks Sr. movie "The Mark of Zorro" — both of which, Cabell says, have long been in the public domain. (According to the suit, the book and the movie would have fallen into the public domain in 1975 and 1976, respectively.)

As such, the suit says, Zorro Productions Inc. could have no copyright claim on the Zorro name — but, according to Cabell, that hasn't prevented ZPI from falsely obtaining numerous registrations for Zorro from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office by fraudulently declaring "that it was exclusively entitled to use the 'Zorro' name."

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Zorro Productions President John Gertz came after Cabell, the suit claims, by approaching the director of Germany's Clingengburg Festival — where Cabell's play was scheduled for a performance — and cautioned the director to "avoid an inevitable lawsuit" by canceling the performance.

Cabell's suit says that Gertz did so because it wanted the festival to "instead, produce an event based on a musical purportedly owned by ZPI."

In addition to Zorro Productions, Inc, the suit also names Gertz and Stage Entertainment Licensed Productions.

Zorro Productions, Inc. has not yet responded to TheWrap's request for comment.

The suit claims that ZPI had previously sued several defendants over the Zorro name in 2001, and while doing so conceded that they own "no copyright in the character Zorro."

Cabell is seeking unspecified damages, plus an injunction preventing the defendants from claiming that his musical infringes on any copyright. He's also seeking a declaratory judgment stating that his play doesn't infringe on any copyrights the defendants may hold

The Zorro character has appeared in numerous books, television productions and films, with the most recent film being the 2005 Antonio Banderas film "The Legend of Zorro," a sequel to 1998's "The Mask of Zorro." 

Pamela Chelin contributed to this report.