Rent is one of Broadway's most well-loved productions. It has made gazillions of dollars, and is now a major motion picture. I haven't seen either yet.
Sarah Schulman was my professor of Gay & Lesbian Film, a random course I took among the philosophy that I very much enjoyed. She is a very political, anti-establishment type woman, to put it simply. I liked her. She once reminded the class that it was drag queens and flamboyant fags that made it possible for there to be such a thing as "gay republicans". In her class I saw, for the first time, one of my favorite films, Portrait of Jason.
Our first assignment for the course gave us some choices, one of which was to compare her book Stagestruck: Theater, AIDS, and the Marketing of Gay America to Rent. The first chapter of her book details the "dirt" on Rent -- that half of its plot was ripped off from her book People in Trouble. She tried to sue, but found going up against a billion dollar industry to be futile. And as the Salon article puts it, "It seems fairly clear that her plot, characters and setting were stolen, but alas, only words are copyrightable."
Slate has an interview with Schulman just in time for the movie's release.
Sarah Schulman's point in much of her criticism (not just of Rent but all "mainstream media") is that the people who do the fighting and suffering are transformed into "secondary characters in the story of their own lives." In mainstream productions like Rent and Philadelphia, for example, we are given a scenario in the early days of AIDS where heterosexuals swoop down and save the queers (and a gay Tom Hanks dies). In reality, gay men and their allies, like Schulman, were the ones who banded together, all alone in the world, to create a movement that changed the way we understand AIDS, gay people, and the politics of disease.