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Copyright debate erupts over documentary on Cuckoo's Nest punk club

April 20, 2010 | 11:35 pm

Cuckoos Nest Ramones-Jerry Roach “We Were Feared,” the new documentary chronicling the fractious tale of Orange County’s celebrated punk rock club the Cuckoo’s Nest, may need to be retitled “We Were Litigated.”

On the eve of Sunday’s scheduled Newport Beach Film Festival premiere of the hour-long doc, Cuckoo’s Nest owner Jerry Roach and the film company, Endurance Pictures, find themselves caught up in a tussle over legal ownership of some of the vintage footage of the wild and woolly scene at the Costa Mesa club in the late-‘70s and early –‘80s, before it was shut down by local authorities.

Not long after  it closed, Roach produced a short documentary called “Urban Struggle: The Battle of the Cuckoo’s Nest.” This week, the director of that film, Paul Young, issued a claim that he owns the copyright on the “Urban Struggle” material, some of it featuring Roach interviewing musicians and club-goers at his establishment.

Roach says that Young, who was a student at Orange Coast College when he was recruited to help make the film, worked on “Urban Struggle” for credit toward his film studies, and that as that film’s producer, Roach holds the copyright on “Urban Struggle.”

So far, Roach and Endurance Pictures officials say they haven’t seen the documents that might provide the basis for Young’s claim. “I have no idea when he copyrighted this or what he copyrighted, but he has nothing with my signature,” Roach says. Young could not be reached for comment.

“We Were Feared” director and co-producer Jonathan Mills told The Times on Tuesday: “We are hoping to negotiate a resolution with Paul. Lawyers are involved. As it stands I’m quite devastated as I’ve spent the last two years putting together a film that now stands never to be released, or at least not released this weekend. It’s all rather disheartening.”

“We Were Feared,” also includes film and archival photos of performances at the Cuckoo’s Nest by the Ramones, Iggy Pop, the Circle Jerks, TSOL and numerous other punk acts of the time, as well as contemporary interviews with some members of those bands, former club-goers and others, including this reporter, who was assigned to covering pop music in Orange County for The Times during that period.

The new film is slated to premiere on Sunday and screen again on Tuesday.

--Randy Lewis

Photo of the Ramones with Jerry Roach, second from right, circa 1978 at the Cuckoo's Nest. Credit: Endurance Pictures