The business of Broadway involves intellectual property rights in many facets of the production. Broadway producing often requires various licensing agreements and contracts in order to perfect the rights of the production company to put on the play or musical.
Copyright in the Script or Book
Most plays and musicals have a book or written script . Whoever writes the script may have a copyright to the words in the book or script. In order to use the copyrighted material, the producer may need to license the rights from the book writer.
A producer can also purchase the copyright in which case the original author may assign or transfer the copyright ownership to the new owner, or producer. There are also situations where the book or script is considered a work for hire. In this case, the copyright may be owned by the producer or whoever hired the author.
Copyright in the Choreography
United States copyright law recognizes copyright in choreography under certain situations. Most often, if the choreography is recorded in a film or another sort of medium, the choreography may be protected and could require licensing or assignment of rights in order to use the choreography. This may come into play most often when a script is licensed for use in a touring or regional production. If the production licenses the script, they may need to also license the choreography in order to use the same choreography.
Copyright in the Set Design
Set designers may also be entitled to copyright in their design of the set. When set designers conceptualize the set, they often develop a miniature model, as well as design drawings. These models and drawings may be copyrighted and subject to protection.
It would be wise for a producer to hire a set designer as a work for hire, or to obtain an assignment or license of the copyrighted work. This will be helpful in ancillary productions, like national or international tours, and regional productions.
Copyright in the Music or Composition
Copyright may attach to both the words of the song and the performance of the song. Many songwriters are registered with ASCAP, BMI and Harry Fox to assist with licensing. A producer may need to obtain a license from the composer of the musical in order to use the music in the musical.
Oftentimes, the composer may get a royalty or a flat fee, or both. The music may have significant value. Think of “This Is Me” from the movie, The Greatest Showman. Benj Pasek and Justin Paul wrote the song for the movie. The song has become an international hit, with many cover versions already commercially available. Pasek and Paul may be entitled to significant publishing rights as songwriters. On the other hand, if they were hired to compose the music as a “work for hire”, then they may have no residual rights on the music, as it could be owned by the producers of The Greatest Showman or whoever licensed the music. This is not at all to say how it was done with Pasek and Paul, but shows the importance of structuring a licensing deal or contractual arrangement for the composers.
Another example is “Memory” from Cats. It too has been performed throughout the world, with a popular version by the incredible Barbara Streisand. When a song is written for a specific musical or play, care should be given to the music and who owns the rights, and what the scope of the rights will be.
Famous Copyright Lawsuits Involving Broadway
Licensing a Play or Musical
Some musical and play writers assigned management of their score or script to a licensing company. This may help to increase their visibility, and also to make it easier to license the material.
Theatrical Rights Worldwide for example, licenses many Broadway shows for worldwide production. If you are a producer looking to revive an old musical or play, or a regional theater or even a high school theater looking to put on a popular musical, you may need to obtain a license to perform the show.
Theatrical Rights Worldwide is the exclusive agent for SPAMALOT, ALL SHOOK UP, CURTAINS, and more.
Read on theatricalrights.com
Hamilton is one of the shows that taught the importance of merchandise licensing. The popularity of a show can translate into significant revenue through merchandise. Care should be given not just into the licensing structure of the merchandise, but also into the creators of the merchandise.
An artist hired to draw the famous Hamilton logo could argue entitlement to royalties or licensing fees unless the drawing was done under a written “work for hire” agreement or there was a license or transfer of the copyright to the logo.
There Are Other Licensing Considerations
This is not an exhaustive list, but gives a general idea of the various copyrights involved in producing a musical or play. Make sure to obtain the advice of counsel if you are using anything that is not your own. Of course, if you wrote the play or composed the musical, look into how to protect your rights as well.
The goal is that all agreements are worked out in advance and the parties can all work together to produce one amazing long-running show, with national and international tours, cast recordings, merchandising and more!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jason Turchin is an attorney, entrepreneur, producer and owner of InvestingBroadway.com.