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Idiot Copyright Holders

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Idiots who overprotect their copyrights really bother me.

In 1947 Tennessee Williams wrote a masterpiece of a play, Streetcar Named Desire, which has been a major part of the American dramatic cannon for over sixty years. Everyone has read it or seen it, it's something most of us were forced to read in high school or college.

It's now 2009 and Mark Sam Rosenthal has put together a satirical look at the government's response to Hurricane Katrina through the eyes of Blanche DuBois, Streetcar's leading lady. The play, Blanche Survives Katrina in a FEMA Trailer Named Desire, is a one person drag performance that didn't really work for me - but certainly is not in anyway infringement on Tennessee Williams' intellectual property.

That's not how the copyright holders feel, they sent the producers a cease-and-desist letter stating the performance was an "infringement on the university's valuable intellectual property rights." For some reason Streetcar's copyright is held by The University of the South, which has no interest in exploring their play or creating new work - those silly educationy things. They love money and they set out to stop the production as quickly as possible.

Rosenthal's reaction mirrored mine: "I don't think Tennessee Williams would approve of anything they're doing in the name of protecting his work, not one bit. He was one starving artist, and I don't think he'd do anything to hurt other starving artists."

Beyond that, the whole idea of some university holding the copyright on one of America's most famous and beloved plays and then not allowing people to develop things based on it is absurd. Are these lawyers so clueless that they haven't seen the now famous Simpsons episode lampooning a community theater production of a Streetcar musical? (Which was un-satirically made into a real-life opera for some reason.) Is it really realistic that a play showing in a 99 seat theater in SoHo can hurt their internationally known play's reputation?

I think if they truly cared about the play, they wouldn't have let Roundabout Theater put on that dull revival a few years ago, which caused serious damage to their 'property.'

Even more ridiculous than some southern college claiming to stick up for Tennessee Williams is the AP taking Shepard Fairey to court for drawing a poster. (You know - that world famous Obama Hope one) based on a picture they took. Markos on Dailykos responded, "This is quite the novel claim by those assholes at the AP -- that artwork based on a photograph is now a copyright violation. Not use of the photo, or even use of part of a photo. But that an entirely different work, on a different medium, is now somehow owned by the AP because it happens to be based on that photo."

I'm no stranger to frivolous copyright lawsuits. In 2007, while producing a male beauty pageant with Broadway actors benefiting a gay youth homeless shelter, we picked an obvious name: Mr. Broadway. Little did we know, that some 150 year-old man had trademarked Mr. Broadway as his personal nickname. I'm serious! He sued us and for the last two years we had to use a less convincing title- The Broadway Beauty Pageant. At least he's been made fun of in the NY Post for being such a jerk.

In this era of YouTube and blogs, our copyright laws need some serious work. Something else for President Obama to put on his to-do list. If he's too busy, give it to Lawrence Lessig to figure out.

Cross posted on Ryan J. Davis Blogs.