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APRIL 1, 2015 – Davis Wright Tremaine LLP is pleased to congratulate our client, the playwright David Adjmi, for his victory in New York federal court. A judge ruled yesterday that Adjmi’s play "3C" does not infringe the copyright in the television series "Three’s Company."
Adjmi had gone to court seeking declaratory relief after the owner of "Three’s Company," DLT Entertainment, threatened to sue for copyright infringement. U.S. District Judge Loretta A. Preska agreed with Adjmi that his play was “a highly transformative parody” of the chirpy 1970s series, and clearly allowed under the doctrine of fair use.
Adjmi has built a reputation for provocative work that combines disparate styles and influences, often including the tropes and clichés of pop culture. "3C" was produced Off-Broadway in 2012, but Adjmi was not able to take up offers to publish the work and license it for future productions while under the cloud of a potential lawsuit.
In October 2013, the playwright enlisted Davis Wright Tremaine partner Bruce Johnson to help him resolve threats from the TV show’s owners. Johnson was joined in the pro bono representation by partner Ed Davis and associate Camille Calman.
“The quality of representation was astoundingly high,” said Adjmi. “I knew DWT had a great reputation, but I really was expecting a kind of perfunctory blow-by-blow in the legal briefs, where the legal marks would be hit and that would be the end of it. I was not at all prepared for the kind of in-depth weaving of historical context, aesthetics, and detailed cultural criticism that made up content of the briefs.”
The DWT team brought considerable experience and passion to the case. Johnson is a longtime trustee of the Seattle Repertory Theatre, and also serves on the advisory committee for Theatre Communications Group, a national organization supporting the country’s professional, non-profit theaters. Davis has extensive experience with First Amendment issues in the cultural sphere. Calman spent years as a theatrical stage manager prior to law school. She took the lead in writing the briefs.
“I felt a true partnership on every level from Ed, Camille, and Bruce and I loved being in partnership with them,” said Adjmi. “They were so respectful and so humane and caring. I am deeply grateful for the rigor and seriousness with which they approached the case and I’m thrilled that Judge Preska has rewarded that work with a judgment in our favor.”
“From the very beginnings of theater, parody has been a part of the playwright’s arsenal,” said Johnson. "Aristophanes’ The Frogs—which opened in 405 B.C.—was a parody of other plays. Hamlet includes a parody of Christopher Marlowe, one of Shakespeare’s competitors. Parody survives the development of modern copyright laws. For example, the first great novel in the English language, "Pamela," was immediately followed by the parody, "Shamela."”
Johnson also expressed gratitude to the Dramatists Legal Defense Fund, which submitted an important amicus brief in the case. The fund was represented by David H. Faux and by Ralph Sevush, general counsel of the Dramatists Guild of America.
Three entities that produced the off-Broadway run of "3C"—Rising Phoenix Repertory, Inc., Rattlestick Productions, Inc., and piece by piece productions, Inc. —were brought into the case as counter-defendants by DLT Entertainment, and were represented by Toby Butterfield and Andrew Ungberg of Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz PC.
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