United States copyright law in the performing arts

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As with any other idea, the idea for a performing arts production is copyrighted as soon as it is created. In order for any of these works to be performed, the proper licenses must be obtained. The only exception to this rule is with the case of works already in the public domain. This includes, for example, the works of William Shakespeare. Whether a work is in the public domain or not depends on the date it was created. If the work is not in the public domain, a license must be obtained to perform it. In many cases, the license for a Broadway production is called an option.



For a producer to put on a Broadway production, he or she must acquire an option, which involves paying a fee. The option is to make sure that the producer is serious about producing this show, and puts the money forth to prove it. For a typical Broadway play, a producer pays $5,000, therefore getting the rights for the first six months. He or she can then pay $2,500 to renew the option for the next six months, and then $5,500 for anywhere up to twelve months after. Sometimes the third renewal requires that the producer has a director, star, or theatre attached to the production. This is all to make sure that the producer is serious about producing this play or musical. [1]

Usually, a Broadway production option gives the producer first-class rights. This typically means a production in New York and possibly London. It can also include a first-class touring production. Other rights, such as rights to perform the work in other places around the world, are not included in first-class rights. It is also possible to get commercial use rights, which would give the producer rights to cast albums and merchandise that comes from the production. Subsidiary rights can also be negotiated. If a producer holds part of an author's subsidiary rights, this would mean the producer would have a share in the profits from all amateur productions, television versions, or movie versions of this production. These rights typically only last for a certain period of time that is negotiated. [1]

The rights must be obtained for all parts a production. For example, for a musical, the rights must be obtained for the book, lyrics, and music.

A producer can also hire a writer to create a work. This could be defined as a Work for hire. If the work is a work for hire, the copyright of the material would be given to the producer of the show, not the writer. Whether or not a work is a work for hire is defined in the contract.

In many cases, the rights to any or all of these parts of a musical or play are distributed by various companies that monitor and represent the rights of the artists. Instead of dealing with the artist directly, these companies monitor the artists' rights.

Where To Get the Rights

There are a few companies that represent artists and their copyrights. These companies make sure that the original artist gets credit and payment for the use of his or her work. Here are a few examples:

ASCAP is the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. They represent composers, songwriters, and lyricists. [2] BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.) also represent songwriters and composers. [3] The Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization represent the authors and rights holders of many theatrical productions. [4]

Some of these companies do not license dramatic performances of works, and some do. A dramatic performance of a work can be anywhere from a performance of an entire dramatic work, such as a musical, or a concert of a few of an artist's songs. ASCAP does not license dramatic performances, but The Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization does. An example of a non-dramatic work would be if a song from a musical were to be played on the radio. [5]

If the production is not a work for hire, many of the artists involved have copyrights once the production is complete. For example, the choreographer's work is copyrighted. According to the U.S. Copyright Office, in order for choreography to be protected under copyright, it needs to be "fixed in a tangible medium of expression from which the work can be performed." [6] In a typical musical, this would make the choreographer's work copyrighted. This means that his or her copyrighted dance routine cannot be used again without his or her permission and payment.

While actors do not have copyright over the words they say or the moves they do, they do have the right to prohibit the recording or broadcasting of their performances. They also have the right to have their name associated with the part they played. [7]

There is some controversy over whether or not a director has copyright over his or her directorial services in a play or musical. There has been no official decision on this matter.

When obtaining rights to a play or musical, it is also a good idea to make sure the chain of title is intact. This means if the musical or play is based on a book, it is important that the rights to the book have been acquired before the musical or play can be produced on Broadway or in London.

In 2010, this became a problem in the Broadway production of the musical Fela!. Carlos Moore is said to be the only official biographer of Fela Anikulapo Kuti. The musical, first produced Off-Broadway, then on Broadway, and then in London, details Fela's life using many of his songs. Carlos Moore claimed that the producers of the musical used his biography but did not credit him or give him any compensation for the use of his copyrighted work. He filed a $5 million suit for his belief of infringement. [8]

The producers of the production said that Carlos Moore knew about the show when it was Off-Broadway, and even participated in interviews about the show. They therefore did not understand his lawsuit years after he became knowledgeable about the show. [9]

Related Research Articles

<i>Carousel</i> (musical) 1945 musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein

Carousel is the second musical by the team of Richard Rodgers (music) and Oscar Hammerstein II. The 1945 work was adapted from Ferenc Molnár's 1909 play Liliom, transplanting its Budapest setting to the Maine coastline. The story revolves around carousel barker Billy Bigelow, whose romance with millworker Julie Jordan comes at the price of both their jobs. He participates in a robbery to provide for Julie and their unborn child; after it goes tragically wrong, he is given a chance to make things right. A secondary plot line deals with millworker Carrie Pipperidge and her romance with ambitious fisherman Enoch Snow. The show includes the well-known songs "If I Loved You", "June Is Bustin' Out All Over" and "You'll Never Walk Alone". Richard Rodgers later wrote that Carousel was his favorite of all his musicals.

American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers

The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers is an American not-for-profit performance-rights organization (PRO) that protects its members' musical copyrights by monitoring public performances of their music, whether via a broadcast or live performance, and compensating them accordingly.

Broadcast Music, Inc. Performing rights organization in the United States

Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) is one of the Five major United States performing rights organizations, along with Pro Music Rights. ASCAP, SESAC and Global Music Rights. It collects license fees from businesses that use music on behalf of songwriters, composers, and music publishers and distributes them as royalties to those members whose works have been performed. In FY 2019, BMI collected $1.28 billion in revenues and distributed $1.196 billion in royalties. BMI's repertoire includes over 1.1 million songwriters and 17 million compositions.

<i>Oklahoma!</i> 1943 musical

Oklahoma! is the first musical written by the duo of Rodgers and Hammerstein. The musical is based on Lynn Riggs' 1931 play, Green Grow the Lilacs. Set in farm country outside the town of Claremore, Indian Territory, in 1906, it tells the story of farm girl Laurey Williams and her courtship by two rival suitors, cowboy Curly McLain and the sinister and frightening farmhand Jud Fry. A secondary romance concerns cowboy Will Parker and his flirtatious fiancée, Ado Annie.

Rodgers and Hammerstein 20th-century American songwriting team

Rodgers and Hammerstein refers to the duo of composer Richard Rodgers (1902–1979) and lyricist-dramatist Oscar Hammerstein II (1895–1960), who together were an influential, innovative and successful American musical theatre writing team. They created a string of popular Broadway musicals in the 1940s and 1950s, initiating what is considered the "golden age" of musical theatre. Five of their Broadway shows, Oklahoma!, Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I and The Sound of Music, were outstanding successes, as was the television broadcast of Cinderella (1957). Of the other four shows that the team produced on Broadway during their lifetimes, Flower Drum Song was well-received, and none was an outright flop. Most of their shows have received frequent revivals around the world, both professional and amateur. Among the many accolades their shows garnered were thirty-four Tony Awards, fifteen Academy Awards, two Pulitzer Prizes and two Grammy Awards.

Copyrights can either be licensed or assigned by the owner of the copyright. A copyright collective is a non-governmental body created by copyright law or private agreement which licenses copyrighted works on behalf of the authors and engages in collective rights management. Copyright societies track all the events and venues where copyrighted works are used and ensure that the copyright holders listed with the society are remunerated for such usage. The copyright society publishes its own tariff scheme on its websites and collects a nominal administrative fee on every transaction.

A performance rights organisation (PRO), also known as a performing rights society, provides intermediary functions, particularly collection of royalties, between copyright holders and parties who wish to use copyrighted works publicly in locations such as shopping and dining venues. Legal consumer purchase of works, such as buying CDs from a music store, confer private performance rights. PROs usually only collect royalties when use of a work is incidental to an organisation's purpose. Royalties for works essential to an organisation's purpose, such as theaters and radio, are usually negotiated directly with the rights holder.

A royalty is a payment made by one party to another that owns a particular asset, for the right to ongoing use of that asset. Royalties are typically agreed upon as a percentage of gross or net revenues derived from the use of an asset or a fixed price per unit sold of an item of such, but there are also other modes and metrics of compensation. A royalty interest is the right to collect a stream of future royalty payments.

A compulsory license provides that the owner of a patent or copyright licenses the use of their rights against payment either set by law or determined through some form of adjudication or arbitration. In essence, under a compulsory license, an individual or company seeking to use another's intellectual property can do so without seeking the rights holder's consent, and pays the rights holder a set fee for the license. This is an exception to the general rule under intellectual property laws that the intellectual property owner enjoys exclusive rights that it may license – or decline to license – to others.

Music on hold (MOH) is the business practice of playing recorded music to fill the silence that would be heard by telephone callers who have been placed on hold. It is especially common in situations involving customer service.

Music licensing is the licensed use of copyrighted music. Music licensing is intended to ensure that the owners of copyrights on musical works are compensated for certain uses of their work. A purchaser has limited rights to use the work without a separate agreement.

<i>Me and Juliet</i> 1953 musical comedy by Rodgers and Hammerstein

Me and Juliet is a musical comedy by Richard Rodgers (music) and Oscar Hammerstein II, and their sixth stage collaboration. The work tells a story of romance backstage at a long-running musical: assistant stage manager Larry woos chorus girl Jeanie behind the back of her electrician boyfriend, Bob. Me and Juliet premiered in 1953 and was considered a modest success — it ran for much of a year on Broadway and had a limited run in Chicago, and returned a small profit to its backers.

Performing rights are the right to perform music in public. It is part of copyright law and demands payment to the music's composer/lyricist and publisher. Performances are considered "public" if they take place in a public place and the audience is outside of a normal circle of friends and family, including concerts nightclubs, restaurants etc. Public performance also includes broadcast and cable television, radio, and any other transmitted performance of a live song.

A music supervisor is a person who combines music and visual media. According to The Guild of Music Supervisors, a music supervisor is “a qualified professional who oversees all music related aspects of film, television, advertising, video games and other existing or emerging visual media platforms as required.” In the musical theatre industry, a music supervisor is often responsible for managing a team of music directors working on any number of musical productions.

<i>Pipe Dream</i> (musical) 1955 musical

Pipe Dream is the seventh musical by the team of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II; it premiered on Broadway on November 30, 1955. The work is based on John Steinbeck's short novel Sweet Thursday—Steinbeck wrote the novel, a sequel to Cannery Row, in the hope of having it adapted into a musical. Set in Monterey, California, the musical tells the story of the romance between Doc, a marine biologist, and Suzy, who in the novel is a prostitute; her profession is only alluded to in the stage work. Pipe Dream was not an outright flop but was a financial disaster for Rodgers and Hammerstein.

Music is considered to be in the public domain if it meets any of the following criteria:

Production music is recorded music that can be licensed to customers for use in film, television, radio and other media. Oftentimes, the music is produced and owned by production music libraries.

Music Law refers to legal aspects of the music industry, and certain legal aspects in other sectors of the entertainment industry. The music industry includes record labels, music publishers, merchandisers, the live events sector and of course performers and artists.

Grand rights is a type of music licensing, specifically covering the right to perform musical compositions within the context of a dramatic work. This includes stage performances such as musical theater, concert dance, and arrangements of music from a dramatic work.

Music Reports

Music Reports serves individuals and organizations seeking expertise and solutions in music rights licensing, administration, royalty accounting, and software development and hosting. Music Reports operates the largest registry of worldwide music rights and related business information.


  1. 1 2 Stein, Tobie S.; Bathurst, Jessica Rae (September 30, 2008). Performing Arts Management: A Handbook of Professional Practices - Tobie S. Stein, Jessica Bathurst - Google Books. ISBN   9781581156508 . Retrieved May 17, 2012.
  2. http://www.ascap.com/index.aspx
  3. "BMI, music royalty, music publishing, music licensing, songwriter, copyright, composer". BMI.com. May 11, 2012. Retrieved May 17, 2012.
  4. "Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization :: Home". Rnh.com. Retrieved May 17, 2012.
  5. "Licensing: Common Licensing Terms". ASCAP. Retrieved May 17, 2012.
  6. "U.S. Copyright Office - Dramatic Works". Copyright.gov. September 11, 2001. Retrieved May 17, 2012.
  7. http://www.wipo.int/freepublications/en/copyright/935/wipo_pub_935.pdf
  8. Itzkoff, Dave (November 9, 2010). "'Fela!' Is Sued for Copyright Infringement - NYTimes.com". Artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com. Retrieved May 17, 2012.
  9. Amelia Hill (November 9, 2010). "Fela! musical is sued by biographer | Music". The Guardian. Retrieved May 17, 2012.