Margaret Barton Driggs v. Gloria Jackson Winters

On October 17, 2005, the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, Jackson Division, issued a Final Judgment in a lawsuit brought by Margaret Barton Driggs against a Jackson, Mississippi actress, Gloria Jackson Winters, for copyright infringement. The judgment, which followed the granting of a Permanent Injunction the preceding day, ended a more than two-and-a-half year ordeal for the author, by ordering Winters to cease permanently her unauthorized performances of Driggs’ one-woman play, Sweet Chariot.

Gloria Jackson Winters, a member of Actors Equity and the Screen Actors Guild, obtained a script of Sweet Chariot in 1994 when cast in a production of the play by the University of Mississippi’s Festival of Southern Theatre. Driggs, the author, was 1994 winner of the Festival’s Play Writing Award. Part of the prize was the play’s first professional, or Equity, production, an important step in play development. Winters performed Sweet Chariot at the University of Mississippi’s Meek Theatre in Oxford over the weekend of July 28, 29 and 30, 1994.

Based on the actress’ own statements, Driggs has estimated that Winters performed Sweet Chariot sixty or more times between 1994 and 2005.

Driggs first learned of Winters’ unauthorized use of the play in February, 2003, and after discovering in October, 2003 the extent of the infringement, sought a Consent Decree to stop the actress’ performing Sweet Chariot. Winters failed to reply to the letter of cease and desist from Driggs’ attorney. Driggs then offered Winters a Licensing Agreement; again Winters did not reply, and instead began performing the play from 2004 on as Deliverer. On January 20, 2005 Driggs filed a motion for injunctive relief (Complaint), and on February 4, 2005, obtained a Temporary Restraining Order to stop a single performance of Deliverer February 28 at Northwest Mississippi Community College.

On February 18, 2005, the Court issued a Preliminary Injunction to prevent Winters’ further performing Driggs’ play until such time as a Permanent Injunction could be obtained. After it was determined that the author would have to go to bankruptcy court in an attempt, unlikely to succeed, to collect any fees, royalties or damages, Driggs filed an Amended Complaint demanding only that the actress permanently stop performing Sweet Chariot.

The Court granted the Permanent Injunction on October 16, 2005, and a Final Judgment the following day. If Gloria Jackson Winters performs Sweet Chariot or that play by any other name, she will be in contempt of court.

I wrote the above summary to stand as a brief and factual account of my struggle to protect my intellectual property, which took years of my life to conceive, research, write, and develop into a work for the stage.

Margaret Barton Driggs
Easton, Maryland
March 29, 2006

Copyright 2006 Margaret Barton Driggs