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Playwright David Adjmi's off-Broadway play “3C” has been accused of being nothing more than blatant copyright infringement by DLT Entertainment, the company that owns the copyright to the popular 1970's television series.
According to a report in the New York Times, Adjmi received a detailed cease-and-desist letter from DLT Entertainment's lawyers, accusing him of copyright infringement, and listing numerous points of similarity between the play and the sitcom. A stage adaptation of "Three's Company" is apparently in the works and DLT alleges that Adjmi's play was damaging to it.
According to the New York Times, Donald Taffner Jr., president of DLT Entertainment, said the company was “very protective of the overall brand” because the show continued to earn substantial revenues from syndication on TV Land and on home video.
3C used a scenario similar to that of "Three's Company," but explored darker implications of American culture in that period. The now-closed production ran June 6-July 14 at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater.
A representative for the Dramatists Guild was quoted in Playbill.com as saying: "the right of authors to make fair comment on pre-existing work (whether through parody or other forms of fair use) is a First Amendment safety valve in the copyright law, and one we wholeheartedly support, as do the courts. If the author contacts us, we will discuss the issue with him and see how we can help."
Adjmi's plight apparently caught the attention of those within the New York theater community, who cited the actions of DLT Entertainment as bullying (a common thread), stating that they believe that Adjmi's play clearly fell under the umbrella of parody — which is protected by the First Amendment.
Other playwrights have explored similar territory, including Bert V. Royal's Dog Sees God, which centers on the teen years of the Peanuts gang.
Tony Award-nominated playwright Jon Robin Baitz penned an open letter explaining why it was important that members of the New York theater community rally behind Adjmi's work and First Amendment rights, calling 3C "clearly and patently and unremittingly parody."
Playbill notes that Rattlestick's marketing materials never drew any direct links to 3C and "Three's Company," describing the play as being "inspired by 1970's sitcoms, 1950's existentialist comedy, Chekhov, and disco anthems," adding that it was a "terrifying yet amusing look at a culture that likes to amuse itself, even as it teeters on the brink of ruin."
"I am not a lawyer, but David may need one, and I am currently investigating the willingness of a respected First Amendment firm to take this case on pro-bono," Baitz stated in his open letter.
"That an Off-Broadway playwright should be bullied by a Wall Street law firm over a long-gone TV show, is, in and of itself, worthy of parody, but in fact, this should be taken seriously enough to merit raising our voices in support of Adjmi and his play, which Kenyon & Kenyon is insisting be placed in a drawer and never published or performed again. Whether one appreciates the work or not is immaterial; the principle at stake here is a basic one. Specious and spurious legal bullying of artists should be vigorously opposed, and that opposition must begin first and foremost with all of us in the New York Theatre community."
Among the notable individuals to add their names in support were Stephen Sondheim, Tony Kushner, Andre Bishop, Joe Mantello, Terrence McNally, Kenneth Lonergan, John Guare, Terry Kinney, Stephen Adley Guirgis and John Patrick Shanley.