After nearly three years during which playwright David Adjmi was prevented from authorizing any productions of, or the publication of, his play 3C, a dark parody of Three’s Company, he has emerged as the victor in his legal battle with DLT Entertainment, which sought to silence the play, charging copyright infringement. Adjmi’s assertion of fair use was confirmed in the judgment.
Quoting from the ruling by Judge Loretta A. Preska, Chief United States District Court Judge in the Southern District of New York:
“Adjmi wishes to authorize publication of 3C and licensing of the play for further production and therefore brings this action seeking a declaration that 3C does not infringe DLT’s copyright in Three’s Company. Adjmi’s motion is GRANTED…”
The 56-page ruling goes on to summarize the play in detail, and then moves to discussion of the ruling, including:
“There is no question that 3C copies the plot premise, characters, sets and certain scenes from Three’s Company. But it is well recognized that “[p]arody needs to mimic an original to make its point, and so has some claim to use the creation of its victim’s. . .imagination.” Campbell, 510 U.S. at 581. The “purpose and character” analysis assumes that the alleged parody will take from the original; the pertinent inquiry is how the alleged parody uses that original material.
“Despite the many similarities between the two, 3C is clearly a transformative use of Three’s Company. 3C conjures up Three’s Company by way of familiar character elements, settings, and plot themes, and uses them to turn Three’s Company’s sunny 1970s Santa Monica into an upside-down, dark version of itself. DLT may not like that transformation, but it is transformation nonetheless.”
In conclusion, the judge wrote:
“The play is a highly transformative parody of the television series that, although it appropriates a substantial amount of Three’s Company, is a drastic departure from the original that poses little risk to the market for the original. The most important consideration under the Section 107 analysis is the distinct nature of the works, which is patently obvious from the Court’s viewing of Three’s Company and review of the 3C screenplay-materials properly within the scope of information considered by the Court in deciding this motion on the pleadings. Equating the two to each other as a thematic or stylistic matter is untenable; 3C is a fair use “sheep,” not an “infringing goat.” See Campbell, 510 U.S. at 586.
“This finding under the statutory factors is confirmed and bolstered by taking into account aims of copyright, as the Court has done throughout.”
Congratulations to Adjmi, to his attorney Bruce E.H. Johnson of Davis Wright Tremaine, to the Dramatists Guild and the Dramatists Legal Defense Fund for their amicus curiae brief in support of Adjmi, and everyone who participated in this fight for authors’ rights and creative freedom.
So, now my question is, what company will be the first to produce 3C now that they’re allowed to at long last, and when can I come and see it?
Howard Sherman is director of the Arts Integrity Initiative at the New School for Drama.