Should we dump the copyright?
A college theatre director in Maryland changes the ending of RENT. In a UK production of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, the director, Nick Olivero, “incorporated elements from both film versions of the show, and he also used text from The Rocky Horror Picture Show and dialogue that he had written himself.” In both cases, the licensing company of these properties (both represented by Music Theatre International) sent cease and desist letters. In the case of the former, the director restored the ending as written and the run continued. In Boxcar Theatre’s case: MTI asked them to cancel the remainder of the run and they did. See this link: http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/theatreblog/2011/jul/07/noises-off-copyright-manifestos
Obviously, this is serious business. I am a director as well as a writer, so I understand and to some extent sympathize with Mr. Olivero’s desire to flex his creative muscles with material that has been around and had thousands of productions for 30 years. However, you’ve taken a work that, like it or not, is protected by law from changes. The logic is clear: Olivero apparently made fun and interesting changes that were made in the spirit of the original, but you can just as easily imagine the opposite. And who’s to say that Howard Ashman, were he alive, w0uld agree that the changes were good?
My take is: Olivero should write his own show. It can be influenced by LITTLE SHOP and ROCKY HORROR and can even pay tribute to them without violating copyright laws. But to tinker with someone else’s script and score, in this case Howard Ashman, Alan Menken, and ROCKY’s Richard O’Brien, and throw a little of your own work in the stew is unfair to everyone. Who does it belong to?
Comparing this to Shakespeare is unfair. Is there a Shakespeare approved version of his plays? No. But even if there were, 400 years later is enough time to give them up to the world’s creative impulses and let those versions rise or fall on their own merits.
In a letter explaining his actions, Olivero defended himself by quoting Jay Irwin, a reviewer from Seattle who wrote, “Boxcar Theatre has taken a pretty standard show and shown what ingenuity and innovation can do to make it that much better.” I’m saddened that a reviewer thinks that taking one of the great scripts and scores and mashing it together with other works actually “makes it better.”
I guarantee that if Olivero tried to write an original, the reviews would not say that it was better than LITTLE SHOP.
What do you think? Would love to have your thoughts and comments right here.