Thursday, February 23, 2012

Legalities in Theatre for Dummies

Being a poor artist is a fine art in itself. You need to know your rights and options when it comes to creating new and innovative theatre while protecting the few assets you have. Such as a beaten up macbook or a barely running motor vehicle.

1. Cabaret Law
When producing a cabaret, one adds different songs from different artists into a self created story line and characters. They key here is different. You cannot legally use two songs by the same catalog or it's no longer considered Cabaret. You would then need to the pay the artist for the right to use their songs in the show. The easier thing is to use all different catalogs. The MAJOR label you have to avoid doubling up on is Walt Disney Co. they are infamous for suing little artists because they have enough money to sue everyone and like to make examples out of the people. This includes all music from disney movies, although a song may be written by Randy Newman, it's partially owned by Disney Co. for being put into Toy Story.

You have to also watch RCA records when dealing with vintage records and songs as this company owns a majority of classic music from the 40's and 50's and you run a risk of doubling when you are picking a lot from this genre. In your program you must list the song and the holding artist. The font of the songs and artists must be no smaller than 12, Times New Roman. 
If you lip sync you must include the original vocal artist, but if you're singing to a backing track you only need list the composer and the owner of the copyright. (If they differ.)

You may have to consider this when choosing your song choices for a sound design.

2. Parody
Parody is similar to libel law. First you must state the show is a parody of a known brand or item. If you're going to parody a movie or published book, you must list it on the poster and program in no smaller than 12, Times New Roman. The author of the original work must also appear in the program and ads. Parody is about respecting the work you are riffing on. You can use the melody of the music but none of the lyrics. You can make fun of the work but not the author. You can not state untrue facts about the author without the term, "allegedly". Free speech and libel laws differ per country. Libel laws are more strict in England so doing parodies is a little more dangerous in this country. Be very careful to use completlely false name and simply allude to the person, if they are infact a real person. 
(The legal ramifications of the parodying the royal wedding in England are excellent example of how tough their laws are. The US and Asia are much more lenient.)

3. Cutting a published script
If a script is under 100 years old you must pay copyright and royalties for it. You must ask permission from the author or the publisher to cut any material or change it. If you do not you open yourself up to litigation. This can be as simple as removing an F Bomb. 4 famous playwrights infamously DO NOT allow any cutting because they believe it damages their work: Neil Simon, Samuel Beckett, Edward Albee and August Wilson. In 2011, the Boxcar company in San Fran was shut down for editing Little Shop of Horrors, In 2004, a production of Rumours was shut down for removing simply the curse words from a production at BYU. Do not cut a script without permission of the author or publisher if it is under a hundred years old. You risk the safety of your company.
Here is a letter from the Boxcar company director that is an interesting read.

If the script is over a 100 years old, HAVE AT IT! You can do anything you want to it because the author has been getting money from it for 100 years and it's now public domain! You also don't have to pay rights and royalties which can be a real penny saver for theatre companies who are on a tight budget. You could do anything to it and no one can sue you.
Plays coming up for royalty free this year include: The Living Corpse by Tolstoy, Androcles and the Lion by Bernard Shaw, Pygmalion and Woychek by Buchner (A personal favorite). Hop on those while the getting is free!

There are very helpful legal articles about copyrights and royalties on Samuel French and Dramatists Publishing. If you're a budding theatre producer you should read them. You can be denied rights for any reason, whether it is that a touring production is coming through soon (IE- High School Musical is not available in HK for 2 more years.) or that another company bought the rights and is sitting on them simply so no one else does the play before them. (Which is a real asshole thing to do, I might add.)

4. Author Information
You must put the name of the publisher and the name of the author on both ads and programs. Publisher logo must appear on the bottom right corner and be no smaller than the average thumb nail.
Publisher's name must appear with logo somewhere in the program. (It's typically done on the back.)
Author's name and adapter's name (if it was translated) must be no less than half the size of the title of the show.

There is also an education clause in most copyright laws saying that if a production is being done for educational purposes, in an educational venue (like a school campus) and NO MONEY is being charged you do not have to pay royalties. Drama competitions are NOT covered under this clause.

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