Abba stars Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus have won a court case surrounding the authorship of their musical ‘Kristina från Duvemåla’. Friday’s verdict is the latest development in a 15-year dispute with dramatist Carl-Johan Seth. Stockholm District Court ruled that while Seth had written a script called ‘Kristina från Duvemåla’, it was not this script that was eventually used for the musical, known in English simply as ‘Kristina’. Andersson and Ulvaeus have claimed that Seth’s original script was so bad that they called in other writers to start again from scratch.
The court agreed with Andersson and Ulvaeus that the final script was written by director Lars Rudolfsson and dramatist Jan Mark. As such, Seth has no claims to the copyright and the Abba pair are not obliged to pay him any royalties.
It was previously revealed in court documents that Seth received a payment of 5 million kronor, which Andersson and Ulvaeus say they paid simply to guarantee peace and quiet. Seth worked with Andersson and Ulvaeus for several years at the beginning of the 1990s. His job was to create an outline story for the musical. A number of Seth’s previous colleagues testified under oath that his script was unusable and that Rudolfsson and Mark penned the version that was used in the musical.
But Seth argued that their involvement was just a standard revision of his script, pointing out that the former Abba members signed an agreement with him confirming that he was the author shortly before the premiere. Seth was named as scriptwriter in the programme for the world premiere in Malmö in 1995, but has since then not been acknowledged in any publicity for the musical.
After a quick look at the verdict, Carl-Johan Seth’s lawyer, Staffan Michelson, immediately indicated that his client would appeal. "The district court has made an extraordinarily peculiar interpretation that the parties agreed on something other than the musical that premiered eight days later," he said.
Had the verdict gone against them, Andersson and Ulvaeus explained that the musical would never again be performed on stage. The case came to a head as the Abba pair developed plans to launch a Broadway version of the musical. Earnings from a US version could be affected by the outcome of the current case. ‘Kristina’ tells the story of a poverty-stricken Swedish family and their migration to American in the nineteenth century.
The musical received a rapturous reception in Sweden, and was seen by over a million people, compared with 847,000 who saw the the Swedish version of the Abba stars’ international success ‘Mamma Mia’.