Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Plagiarism, plays about current events

There's plenty of precedent for the use of newspaper material-- especially when one reporter's version has been taken up by the wire services and is rewritten/re-reported by other papers. Dos Passos "USA" and depression-era Living Newspaper shows incorporate just such material. But like all litigated matters, it depends on whether an entity with lawyers wants to make a particular artist's life hell.

I've both performed in and written plays that used "public record" material. All were and are defensible as "fair use" of material from multiple sources, but would not be defended in court simply because no writer or producer could afford to pay a lawyer to defend them. Fortunately, this usually becomes an issue only when a play is high
profile and there is actually money being made: and since almost no plays or playwrights in fact make real money, the temptation to sue is not very strong. Disney does it to intimidate. The psychologist whose work Bryony Lavory based "Frozen" on was very upset to be so portrayed. At the end of the long New Yorker article about it, Lavery's play continues unmolested.

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