An Open Letter to the Tennis Community

We ask for your support in our fight against the efforts of the United States Tennis Association (USTA) to deny our first amendment rights of freedom of speech and freedom of the press and to censor our documentary, Venus and Serena, about the remarkable lives of the Williams sisters.

When we began our work, we expected to have the cooperation of the USTA as we prepared to tell the world, for the first time in a full-length documentary, the story of two of the greatest American stars in tennis history. And we were fully prepared to fairly compensate USTA for any USTA-controlled film footage that we used in the film.

Remarkably, though, USTA refused to sell us the rights to the footage of their greatest icons unless we agreed to censor our film. In particular, USTA demanded that we not include footage that we believed was important to the complete telling of this incredible story. (This footage, involving disagreements with umpires, is widely available on YouTube and elsewhere, and the disagreements themselves were widely reported on when they occurred.)

In short, this is not a simple legal dispute over payment for rights. Instead, this is the story of a sports governing body, the USTA, using its power to attempt to censor filmmakers.

Now, the USTA has sued us, challenging our documentary in court. As award-winning documentarian Alex Gibney has written, "the USTA's efforts to censor this film about America's most inspiring female athletes don't change the fact that my colleagues were entirely within their legal rights to use a small amount of widely seen footage. The concept of fair use is vital to filmmakers trying to tell truthful stories and embodies the essence of the first amendment of the U.S. constitution. Indeed, without the fair use doctrine, copyright itself would be unconstitutional. By its actions, the USTA is assaulting the very principle of free speech."

What's more, the USTA's attitude toward the film is short-sighted and self-defeating. The documentary represents the most ambitious effort so far to chronicle the careers of the Williams sisters, two of the most important stars in tennis history. Instead of embracing the documentary and using it as a tool to widely promote tennis to youngsters of all backgrounds -- an effort that we as filmmakers proposed to the USTA -- the USTA is instead trying to undermine the documentary by denying the American public the right to share in this great American story.

We ask for your support in our efforts to fight USTA's attempts to censor our film.