Playwriting

Look Before you Leap

So, you get an idea. It starts to percolate in your brain. To the point that you have to start writing parts of the perc down because you’re afraid you’re going to lose the idea. And even though you have other projects ahead of this idea you decide to do a little bit of work. On your day off. Cause you’re a writing freak and that’s what you do on your day off. Write for fun.

So, when I’m in the writing for fun stage (oh you thought we were talking about you?), I sit with my lap top and a note book balanced on the arm of my chair just letting whatever is in my head come out. No pressure. No full sentences. A lot of chicken scrawl. And sometimes a thought comes out that requires a little research. That’s what the lap top is for. Thanks to the immediacy of the internet, a world of knowledge is at my finger tips.

And thanks to the immediacy of the internet, more often than not I learn things that really help my idea move forward. Sometimes I circle for hours never quite grasping the knowledge I’m looking for. And sometimes, I learn something I didn’t know, but would need to know when I switch hats and look at a play as a publisher.

Copyright and trademark are very important things to know when you’re a publisher. Frankly, it’s downright rude to knowingly put something in print that you don’t own, or you don’t have the right to play with. Whether you agree or not, doesn’t matter. It is what it is. If something isn’t yours put it back.

So, I’m thinking about a superhero play. Is it an excuse to allow teenagers to dress up in fun costumes? Of course. But I got some interesting thoughts percolating. And even though I have other projects ahead of this one, I decided this weekend to do a little bit of work on my new idea. Just a little. Just some chicken scrawl. Just for fun. On my day off.

And I found out something I never knew. Marvel and DC Comics have a trademark on the word “Super-hero.” Check out discussions here. And here. And here.

Did you know that? I know, me neither! What does that mean? It means, that no one, other than Marvel and DC comics can have a publication (or any merchandising) with the word super-hero in the title. Now, you can reference someone as a super-hero inside the publication. But you can’t call your publication “The Tales of Jimmy the Super-hero.”

Do I agree with this? I don’t know, it seems petty. I don’t know if I believe that when people think super-hero they automatically think DC or Marvel, which is the idea behind trademarking something. But it is what it is. And not that my play will have super-hero in the title ( my title’s been percolating for months now) but it’s good to know.

Here’s another one. Many years ago, a younger, less aware me put together an adaptation of TS Eliot’s The Wasteland. I loved it, it’s such a theatrical, wackadoodle poem. So when Theatrefolk came into being and we were looking for plays to go in that first catalogue, we naturally thought of The Wasteland. Shortly thereafter, through the immediacy of the internet, we came to learn the poem wasn’t in the public domain and that ended that. Out it came. This past year, I read an article, (and if I could remember where I’d link to it. darn plays taking up too much space in my memory!) that The Wasteland had become public domain material and we were very excited. Yay, back into the catalogue!

Not so fast.

It wasn’t exactly clear WHERE the poem was in the public domain. And through the immediacy of the internet, we were able to determine The Wasteland IS in the public domain in the US, but NOT in commonwealth countries – Canada being one of those. It won’t be in the public domain in Canada for five more years.

Too bad. So sad. But that’s the way it goes.

The moral of the story is when you are using material that is someone else’s work, or is in pop culture, or something you THINK is fair game (did you know Happy Birthday under copyright?) always, always do a little research. You know on that internet thing where information is really…… hmmm what’s the word? There is no excuse and no reason to say, ‘I didn’t know.’

Go know.

About the author

Lindsay Price