Shadow Puppets

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  • My question is in regards to me creating a shadow puppet show / story performance of Eric Carle’s, “Slowly, Slowly, Slowly, Said the Sloth”. I intend to perform the shadow puppet show only at the library, which is free admission, of course. I would advertise the show as being Eric Carle’s, and follow the story without improvisation (minus sound effects, such as a rain stick).

    The puppets will be silhouettes. No specific details will be apparent except for their outline shape. I’d simply cut the shapes out of cardboard. However, I have considered copying the shapes from the images in the book to get the shapes for the puppets—but I could also come up with my own shapes if the law says it’s necessary.

    I see the show as an extension of performing the book.

    What are your opinions on whether I can do this or not?

    If you are wondering what a shadow puppet looks like, follow this link:
  • This question sounds so much like the abstruse puzzles given as law school final exams that I have a hard time taking it seriously (which implies that I did not take law school final exams seriously, I suppose). But it has niggled at me all week and, in the absence of any other answer, I decided to take a stab at it.

    It seems to me that there are two separable issues to be addressed here -- the public performance right and the right to create derivative works.

    As for public performance, I think that this shadow puppet show would be a public performance, just as a straight reading of the book would be, and it must be justified (or not) using the same logic. I have always supposed that public readings in a public library are exempted from the need for permission based on the exception to the performance right in 110(4) of the copyright act. I think it would be hard to shoehorn such performances into 110(1) for face-to-face teaching situations, but 110(4) -- which allows public performance of non-dramatic literary works, as long as they are not transmitted, when the performance is not for commercial advantage, the performers are not paid and no admission is charged -- seems to fit the situation. Perhaps those with more experience in public libraries can confirm that this is the statutory justification for children's story times and other public readings, or suggest some other reasoning?

    The derivative works right is the really ticklish issue here, in my opinion (and the reason this reminds me of a law school exam). The shadow puppet show itself would not be a derivative work, I don't think, because it is ephemeral. To create a derivative work one must add copyrightable expression, and nothing in the shadow performance would itself be copyrightable EXCEPT perhaps the silhouette shapes used to generate the shadows. If these are derivative works, than either fair use or permission would be needed to permits their creation. I could certainly imagine a fair use argument, based on the transformative nature of the performance that is facilitated by the silhouettes. But the line between a transformative fair use and an infringing derivative work is very fuzzy, and the fact that the silhouettes would be more or less "slavish" copies seems to count against the former. On the other hand, the "impact on the market" factor in fair use seems to fall squarely on the fair use side, since there is certainly no ready market, even a secondary licensing market, for creating shadow puppet silhouettes.

    I think my ultimate opinion here is that, if the performance is justified under one of the 110 exceptions for certain public performances, the creation of the necessary silhouettes is either fair use or has such a minimal impact that both courts and copyright holders would ignore it. But I fear that is a "C" answer to this particular exam.
  • Thanks for your thoughts. I sent an email to Eric Carle asking for his permission in the absence of responses a few days ago. It may take some time, but perhaps he will respond. Either way, I am glad your initial evaluation leans my way somewhat. Thanks!

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