Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Fair Use on the Stage: Dramaturgy and Copyrighting

Okay, so Fair Use Girl is probably one of the more boring Superheroes but she just so happens to fit in quite nicely with this week's blog content.  Actually, as every one of us have been doing since we started writing blog posts, I am exercising my "right" to fair use just by posting this picture to my blog...(Thanks Fair Use Girl!)

I found this week's material very interesting, mostly because I am subject to alot of copyrighted material as I perform in many plays with my local community theatre group.  This has put a lot of things into perspective for me.  The performer in me wonders what the world would be like if no one could put on a new production of "Hamlet", "The Importance of Being Earnest", "Tartuffe",  "Rent" or "The Producers."  Each of these productions have been put on through my playhouse, and each of them have been different, at least in some ways, then other productions of the same plays done elsewhere.  This is a perfect example of the Fair Use concept of "transformativeness" as stated in the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video.  You see, each director and each actor brings with them a new way of interpreting the lines that are written, or the envisioning the set where the play is performed, and even the emotional state of the characters themselves.  Because of this, each production, and sometimes each performance, is different than the others regardless of the fact that it is the same play. 

Lawrence Lessig wrote that "Creators here and everywhere are always and at all times building upon the creativity that went before and that surrounds them now."  This is very true, in all aspects of society, but especially in the entertainment world.  Did you know that the popular 90's teen movie 10 Things I Hate About You, was actually an adaption of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew? That movie would never have been made if it wasn't for the ability to "borrow" from another's creative accomplishments.   Or how about the controversial adaption of Romeo and Juliet with Leonardo DiCaprio and Clare Danes?  Surely Shakespeare did not envision his play to contain vehicles and guns let alone take place in the 20th century.  More recently the George Clooney film O Brother Where Art Thou? was loosely based on Homer's epic poem The Odyssey yet takes place in rural America.  And the list can go on and on.  Each adaptation, created something new and "valuable" in its own right, and the material that was drawn upon to create this new experience has been made richer for it.  Mark Halperin said it best when he noted that "ideas are immaterial to the question of copyright." He stresses the notion that art and creativity are subjective, two people may start with the same idea and create two completely different works of art, i.e. Neil Diamond and Mozart or Shakespeare and The Coen Brothers.

Lessig also noted that to make intellectual property and physical property the same would "fundamentally weaken the opportunity for new creators to create."  I absolutely agree with this statement, with some reservations of course.  Looking at the issue of copyrighting from the perspective of someone who created something, I could see certain instances where I would not want someone to use my work.  One instance would be, obviously, to duplicate my work and present it as their own.  It is obvious to most of us that to do so is dishonest, not to mention morally reprehensible.  Another example would be to take my work and twist it to conform to a purpose that contradicts what my work was created for in the first place.   Other than these two conditions, I would want my work to be used to encourage another's creativity and to inspire and generate new works that will in turn do the same.  This process may not provide me with monetary capital, but it will almost certainly be rich in "cultural capital" which is after all, one of the main reasons why creators create and performers perform. 

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