Thursday, June 30, 2011

RESPONSE: Copyright or Wrong pt.1 - Civil Disobedience

Uh oh. Some wrote a long and passionate post about how their show got taken down by copyright:

Due to certain artistic choices implemented by myself – the director – Boxcar’s production of Little Shop of Horrors has been closed by the organization that owns and licenses the rights. This was effective immediately. I do not hold the licensing organization accountable for doing their job.

The production I created violated the terms and conditions set forth by the contract my company signed to license the show. I made alterations and changes to Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s script. I took elements from the original 1960 film version of Little Shop of Horrors directed by Roger Corman and combined them with the original 1982 off-Broadway musical as well as the 1986 film version. I borrowed from Rocky Horror Picture Show and wrote bits of dialogue myself to help blend the material seamlessly. These changes prompted many to buy tickets, garnered us rave reviews and sold out houses. It was certainly these changes that caught the eye of who wrote a compelling article regarding my concepts. And it was that article that instantly drew attention to our production by the licensing company.

He goes on to tell the story in detail. And then got some very angry responses For instance:

But take copywright laws up with the relevant people and stop bitching, moaning and producing illegal productions until the laws change. And stop looking for support from the theatrical community. It’s embarrassing.

When it comes to copyright law, I very strongly disagree. The copyright law that exists comes from extremely powerful players with extremely deep pockets (most of whom are named Disney), and the odds that an independent theater on its own will turn the tide of copyright in the next decade is improbable. There is plenty of work that I cannot legally do at the current moment, and I refuse to take a big stack of my work and set it aside, and wait until the laws change. Sure, we should work through legal avenues to try and change the law.

But if there is a law that is completely out of all proportion and it has a negative impact on the community, I say you should go ahead and do it. It's civil disobedience, and it's important. You get your ducks in a row, you only fight the battles you believe in, but if you think this is the work you should be fighting for: fight for it.

And then we do look to each other for support, because if we can convince each other that copyright law is incorrect, we could maybe build up the momentum to actually change the law.

“I entered into an agreement. I knew those terms and I knowingly broke those terms. Now I’m sad there were repercussions”.

Better summed up as "I entered into an agreement because of legal constraints. I knew those terms and I knowingly broke those terms. I understand the repercussions, but would like to use them to highlight the legal constraint."

* The quality of Boxcar’s production is completely and utterly beside the point.

Actually, no it's not. When we're talking about the validity of laws, we're balancing the rights of individuals against what benefits society at large. If we believe that good art benefits society -- and if not, you're probably not reading an arts policy blog, are you? -- then the fact that good work comes out of copyright violations is relevant.

For instance, one of my greatest frustrations was that the play Architecting, one of the finest plays I've ever seen in my life, can't be published because some of the characters and some of the passages are taken from Gone with the Wind. It's not in any way a copy of Gone with the Wind, and it could never be confused for Gone with the Wind. But because it's an "idea" that's "owned" -- not by the original writer, but by University of the South -- and because that idea is owned for 95 years plus the author's life -- I'll never own that play.

Is defending the revenue of University of the South a better social outcome than allowing a beautiful and inventive new work to be preserved? Obviously if the play were worthless, it would be more important to defend the revenue. But the fact that banning such work is a loss -- a loss of good work -- is relevant.

* Perhaps all of this nonsense could have been avoided in the first place if Olivero had submitted his concept to Samuel French (I think they hold the rights but it’s been a long time since I directed my own production–whoever holds them now) and asked for some kind of waiver beforehand.

In my experience, probably not. Unless you have lots of money to really buy the license for the play -- like, if you've got $10,000+ to pay for those rights -- asking for permission just attracts their attention, and thus makes it impossible to skirt the law.