Your graphic novel reimagines a 40-year-old old movie. Your paintings integrate corporate logos into the imagery. Your photograph was used without your permission in someone’s news article.
If you make new work, and do so for long enough, you’re likely to someday come up against the quagmire of copyright. The issues can be complicated and the solutions, at times, opaque.
A recent “cease and desist” letter to NY-based playwright David Adjmi (a past panelist in our Artist Fellowships Program) illustrates the complexities an artist faces when approaching copyrighted material. Adjmi’s play 3C is about two female and one male roommate, a riff on some of the themes and situations of the 1970s/80s sitcom Three’s Company. Adjmi received critical admiration for the play; not so admiring were lawyers for the company that owns the rights to the sitcom. They sent a letter that, among other things, claims Adjmi’s play infringes on copyrighted material, says 3C damages a proposed stage version of Three’s Company, and demands the playwright cease all future productions and publications of 3C.
The Theatre Communication Group’s blog has posted a letter by Jon Robin Baitz in support of David Adjmi. Among the first to sign the letter are Edward Albee, Tony Kushner, Stephen Sondheim, and Paula Vogel. At the time of this writing, there have been over 540 signatures of support.
We’ve explored copyright issues a few times on this blog: artists Tim Devin and David Taber guest-blogged about copyright, appropriation, and ethics in the work of contemporary artists. Lawyers Jenny Milana and Mitchell Bragg addressed different intellectual property issues, like fair use, derivative works, in our Ask an Arts Attorney feature.
If you are facing a copyright or intellectual property issue, one place to start may be Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts. Through the VLA, lawyers donate their time to serve the legal needs of the Massachusetts arts community. There is an application fee, but if eligible, artists may receive free services.
But even if you’re not facing a current legal issue, questions of copyright may still affect how you create your art. Have concerns about copyright law ever restricted or changed your artistic decisions? And if so, is that a good or a bad thing?
David Adjmi’s play Marie Antoinette will have its world premiere at A.R.T. in Cambridge, Sept. 1-Sept. 29, 2012.
Image: Question mark copyright from Wikimedia Commons