Golden Girls Puppet Parody Leads To Lawsuit

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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Golden Girls The New York Times reports that a dispute over rival Golden Girls puppet parodies has led to the filing of a lawsuit.

Golden Girls was a popular sitcom that ran on NBC from 1985 to 1992. Beatrice Arthur and Betty White portrayed two of the mature women sharing a Miami home.

That Golden Girls Show — A Puppet Parody” opened off-Broadway in October 2016.

Parody as Fair Use

The original TV version of Golden Girls is still protected by copyright. Anyone selling, for example, bootleg copies of the show would be liable for copyright infringement.

However, parody is among the “fair use” exceptions to copyright law protection.

According to the US Supreme Court, as discussed in this ABA article,  

a parody is the “use of some elements of a prior author’s composition to create a new one that, at least in part, comments on that author’s works.” Like other forms of comment or criticism, parody can provide social benefit, “by shedding light on an earlier work, and, in the process, creating a new one.”

A parody isn’t the same as a satire, because:

while a parody targets and mimics the original work to make its point, a satire uses the work to criticize something else.

Harmless

According to the review in the Times, “That Golden Girls Show — A Puppet Parody”  is “a harmless homage that respects the beloved television series but also underscores its limitations.”

The review noted that

Jonathan Rockefeller, who wrote and directed, must be quite the fan, because this is his second puppet play inspired by the series. (The first was “Thank You for Being a Friend,” named for the show’s theme song.)

Rockefeller created that earlier show with Australian playwright Thomas Duncan-Watt and “Thank You for Being a Friend” was performed in Australia and Canada.

After that run, the team planned to take the show to the US and the UK.

Duncan-Watt and the producers of the earlier show have now sued Rockefeller.

“Exactly the Same”

The format of the new show is said to be “exactly the same” as the old one, with a man performing the puppet of Dorothy (played by Bea Arthur in the series).

Duncan-Watt claims that Rockefeller convinced him to write a new version of the show but then took his name off it and denied him any royalties when Rockefeller brought the show to New York.

One of the producers of the original show said that the new script was “word for word” what Duncan-Watt had written.

The producer noted that

A best friendship of 10 years has been fractured by the selfishness of [Rockefeller], who needs to be seen as an all-powerful genius that writes, directs, produces and does it himself.

Duncan-Watt claimed that Rockefeller “does not have the creative talent or technical skill to write such a script.”

According to Playbill, the causes of action include defamation, fraud, breach of contract, and breach of a licensing agreement.

The plaintiffs are seeking $11 million in damages. Rockefeller’s lawyers called the suit frivolous.


Photo Credit: Still shot from video from That Golden Girls Show website.

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