"Who is Watching the Watchman?", by Ralph Sevush, Esq.

The DLDF Censorship Database – Who is Watching the Watchmen?


In addition to my work here at the Guild, I am also the executive director and treasurer of
the Dramatists Legal Defense Fund, which the Guild founded in 2012 to educate and advocate on behalf of copyright protection, fair use, and free expression in the dramatic arts.

This past year, the DLDF saw large growth as an organization. After sponsoring
programming at the Guild’s national conference in La Jolla, we hosted a live panel on fair use
with playwright David Adjmi, who had been sued by a TV company because they claimed his
play, 3C, infringed their copyright in the sitcom Three’s Company. We filed an amicus brief in
that case, which was ultimately won by the playwright, upholding his right to make fair use of
the TV show in order to create a transformative parody. We also supported the high school
students of Maiden, NC and their re-mounted production of "Almost, Maine", which had been
canceled by the school administration because a short scene in this work (one of the most widely produced plays at schools across the country) that had the temerity to suggest that two men could literally “fall” in love.

We are also preparing a brief to urge the Supreme Court to review the landmark case of
Author’s Guild v Google, in which the 2nd Circuit court held that it apparently was just fine for
Google to download an entire library to build a for-profit search engine, without permission of
the authors whose works they were infringing en masse.

And recently we helped sponsor the "Banned Broadway" program by the TADA! Youth
Theater in New York City, in which teen actors performed scenes and songs from shows which
had faced censorship. In considering this program, it raised a foundational question for the
DLDF board: which plays are being censored, by whom, and why? I mean, we certainly knew
anecdotally, but only from what we ourselves happened to read or hear about. There was no
systematic way of tracking and updating this information.

To answer these questions, the DLDF is now building a database of dramatic works that
have faced censorship around the country. It is our intention to identify specific shows that have been cancelled or closed due to legal, political or economic pressure, or had to overcome such obstacles in order to be seen.

To do this, we will need your help. We’ll be creating a survey form for Guild members,
as well as making it available to the public at large on the DLDF website, to collect your reports of this type of behavior. We will need to know the name of the play, the playwright, the
producing organization, the protesting parties, and the nature of their claims against the work.
After “crowdsourcing” the database entries, they will be vetted by our DLDF attorneys and staff.

We are specifically looking for plays and musicals that have faced documented production
challenges in the U.S. over the past five years.

We are doing this to help playwrights and the general public to understand the scope and
scale of the issue, and to see who is being targeted by these oppressive acts and who is doing the targeting. We are hopeful that, by turning the tables and watching the social watchdogs nipping at the heels of our society’s artists, we can expose these forces of repression and undermine their ability to be effective. The database will also serve as a useful document of the cultural history of our time and could be valuable to future scholarship in this area. And, if the database can accomplish even some of these goals, we think it can be a useful tool in the public’s defense of free expression in the dramatic arts.

With your help, and with apologies to Juvenal and Alan Moore, WE will be watching the
watchmen. So we look forward to your input.

The Dramatists Legal Defense Fund… because words matter.

This is an archived post from the original DLDF website.

Amy VonVett