New York-based production company suing Anne of Green Gables licensing body

The producers of a new musical based on the Anne of Green Gables story have filed a lawsuit against the Anne of Green Gables Licensing Authority, claiming their work does not infringe on trademarks held by the authority.

Lawsuit claims Anne is 'as much in the public domain as are Shakespeare’s plays'

Author Lucy Maud Montgomery is best known for a series of novels that began in 1908 with Anne of Green Gables. (NATARK-Canadian Press/Pan Macmillan)

The producers of a new musical based on Anne of Green Gables have filed a lawsuit against the P.E.I.-based Anne of Green Gables Licensing Authority, claiming their work does not infringe upon trademarks held by the authority.

In the lawsuit, filed Tuesday in the Southern District Court of New York, the producers allege the Anne Authority is "brazenly" attempting to extend the life of and monetize an expired copyright for L.M. Montgomery's famous book set on Prince Edward Island.

The company is seeking a declaratory judgment stating that their play's title "does not infringe on any trademark or other intellectual property rights."

The Anne Authority is jointly owned by the Province of P.E.I. and Montgomery's heirs Ruth Macdonald and David Macdonald.

Anne With An E, LLC, is a New York-based production company behind Anne of Green Gables: A New Musical. The play with a folk-rock flavour was first produced in July 2018, and according to the lawsuit, is currently in development for Broadway.

L.M. Montgomery used the farmhouse now known as Green Gables Heritage Place as the inspiration and setting for her 1908 novel. (Jane Robertson/CBC)

Anne of Green Gables, the novel, entered the public domain in 1983 in the United States, and in 1992 in Canada. That happens a certain length of time after an author's death, and it usually means the work becomes available for adaptation without fees having to be paid. 

But the Anne of Green Gables Licensing Authority has a trademark on Anne of Green Gables, and has worked to control and protect new representations of Anne, even as the book has entered the public domain.

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In the New York lawsuit, however, the producers claim Anne is "as much in the public domain as are Shakespeare's plays."

According to court documents, producers filed the suit after the licensing authority sent a draft version of a trademark infringement complaint, threatening to file it in court if the play was not renamed. The deadline the authority gave for renaming the show was Monday, Feb. 20.

CBC News reached out to the Anne Authority for comment on Wednesday, but did not hear back.

Prince Edward Island's Confederation Centre of the Arts is home to Canada's long-running musical, based on the Anne story. The centre recently announced that Anne of Green Gables: The Musical will now be produced every second year, starting in 2024.


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