Rights and Royalties 101

By Jonathan Dorf posted 08-05-2014 10:36

When we were working on the new YouthPLAYS catalogue, we decided to include a section at the front that explained the major points of rights and royalties.  Below is a modified for the blog version:

Playwrights' plays and musicals are protected by copyright, which means there are rules about how you can use them. Here are the ones you need to know:

1. You must obtain permission and pay royalties any time you perform a play in whole or in part in front of an audience (anyone outside of the cast and crew), regardless of whether admission is charged, whether the production is being staged for profit, whether anyone is being paid, whether the play is being performed for educational purposes (e.g. school assemblies) or whether the performance is billed as an "invited dress rehearsal."

2. Performing a play without prior licensing and payment of royalties is copyright infringement. Infringement is a serious matter, subject to statutory damages of up to $150,000 per incident plus legal costs. At minimum, expect to pay a penalty in addition to the rightfully owed royalties.

3. You may not make cuts, changes or additions to any play (including changing the gender of a character) without permission from the author or author's representative.

4. You may not copy scripts or books in whole or in part unless you have specific permission to do so (for example, you have purchased a license that includes this type of permission).

5. You may often use cuttings/scripts of 10 minutes or fewer in adjudicated competition (e.g. speech, Thespian IEs) without a royalty so long as you purchase a copy for each competitor, but while that is the prevailing practice among many publishers, it is not universal.  So make sure to ask.

6. You may not record your performance (including archival copies) unless you have received specific permission to do so, as typically the rights you have licensed when you licensed the play performances are live stage rights only.  Some publishers (including YouthPLAYS) allow for the purchase of limited video rights, which may allow you to make an archival copy and possibly limited additional copies (e.g. for cast and crew).  These rights typically do not allow for posting to social media or other websites or for any kind of broadcast.

7. You must credit the author in all programs, posters and other advertising of the play. The author's name should be immediately following the title in a font no less than half the size of the title. No other names should be larger.

When in doubt about rights, ask.  Publishers and authors are delighted to help you do the right thing!

Hope this helps!