A cheery, chipper, Seventies sit-com that turned on a naughty-cute lifestyle-linked plot has, in its own fashion, allowed a federal district court in Manhattan to hand down a copyright infringment decision with its own twist.
Based on a Rule 12(c) motion, Loretta A. Preska, chief judge in the Southern District Court of New York, has found that playwright David Adjmi‘s dark, off-Broadway work, 3C, was non-infringing of the copyright held by DTL Entertainment for the popular television farce Three’s Company, which starred the late John Ritter, actresses Suzanne Somers and Joyce DeWitt, (shown in right photo) and the late comedy legend Don Knotts.
The court issued its declaratory judgment based on pleadings, determining swiftly that Adjmi’s contemporary and sardonic take-off on the frothy TV original clearly constituted a parody. The new work, Preska wrote, offered a criticism of the frivolous, light- hearted outlook at the heart of the sitcom and the “superficial treatment” the original took to topics like sexuality, homosexuality, and gender based hijinks and discrimination. The court found 3C (with key cast shown in left photo) a transformative use of Three’s Company and therefore entitled to fair use protection against infringement claims.
Preska based her ruling solely on the script of 3C and a few critic’s reviews; the court did not see an actual performance. The critics, however, were emphatic in their reviews that 3C was a parody of the original show, commenting on big differences between characters (for example, a protagonist in 3C is secretly gay and tormented, while his counterpart in the original pretends to be gay, for what, in its day, was sniggering comedy) and even the overall theme.
This ruling means Adjmi may be able to take up an offer he claims to have received to publish 3C and license its performance. This case reportedly was much watched by struggling playwrights, wary of legal tussles but interested in parody, whether for sheer entertainment or to comment on certain contemporary topics with references to notable pop culture works.