In an interesting opinion which may have many of us reminisce about our childhood TV habits, a federal judge in New York ruled that a Broadway play, “3C,” did not infringe on the copyright of the famed TV sitcom “Three’s Company.” The ruling noted that the play was a “drastic departure” from the TV show.
While it was clear the play was based on the ABC sitcom featuring John Ritter as a heterosexual male disguising himself as gay in order to room with two women. The play, which appeared to be a dark comedy per the excerpts in the court opinion, ended a two-month run off-Broadway to tempered reviews.
The Court determined that the play was a “highly transformative parody of the television series.” The opinion reflects the ongoing struggle with the concept of “Fair Use” in copyright law. Fair Use is an exception to use a copyrighted work of one with an exclusive right. The doctrine has been widely criticized by scholars for its “undisciplined” and “unwieldy” application by courts. We are not saying that the 3C ruling was undisciplined or unwieldy, but it reflects the broad interpretation of courts.