FAQ:Rights and Royalties for Harvard Theatre

This information is written as a guide for undergraduate theatre and musical theatre productions at Harvard. It is not intended to be a complete representation or a legal authority. Producers or directors considering doing a show with copyright restrictions should contact Dana Knox (for shows outside the Loeb Drama Center) or the ART (for shows in the Loeb) as far in advance as possible.

Q:Is my show in copyright?
Q:Where would I look?
Q:What are rights, anyway?
Q:It isn't marked, is it OK?
Q: Do I want to do this show?
Q: What will it cost?
Q: Are the fees negotiable?
Q: Can I get the show?
Q: How would they know?
Q:What happens next?

Some Frequently-Asked Questions about Rights:
Q: Is my show in copyright?
A: The short version: for works created after 1978, the period of copyright is the creator's life plus 70 years (this changed in 1998). For works created before 1978, the term is 95 years. If multiple creators registered the copyright (George and Ira) the later death will count. If a translator created a version of a play, that translation may be in copyright. Most of Shakespeare's oeuvre has passed out of copyright.
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Q: Where would I look?
A: For a musical, there are a few companies which hold the rights to a great many productions - Tams-Witmark , Musical Theatre International(MTI) , and Rogers&Hammerstein . A few composers use family foundations. For a straight play, there is almost always a note about how to obtain the rights in the book. Two major publishers are Samuel French, Inc. and Dramatists Play Service. In any case, you can contact the publisher of the printed edition, who will know who has the performing rights. There is a play finder web site at FindaPlay.com.
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Q: What are rights, anyway?
A: In this context, we are interested in dramatic rights, the right to perform a play. Copyright is intended as a way to stimulate the creation of art or "intellectual property" (such as patents) by assuring the author of the ability to control and profit from the work. There are performance rights, print rights, recording rights, and dramatic rights-- the last is what we care about here. If you are doing a cabaret, using a song or a standard, we should talk further.
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Q: It isn't marked, is it OK?
A: It is no longer necessary to state "copyright C 1995 Joe Smith" to preserve one's copyright (although most people do it). If there is such a notice and the date is before 1904, you are probably safe. If not, investigate.
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Q: Do I want to do this show?
A: Most rental companies will send you a "perusal" copy of the book of a show, on request. These are short-term loans, and they will bill you if the book is returned late. In general you may ask for perusal copies of a handful of shows. The big companies publish catalogs and have web sites.
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Q: What will it cost?
A: It depends. The rights for most straight plays are rather perfunctory; we often pay less than $100 for the first performance and less than $50 for additional performances. For straight plays, the books are generally paperbacks, and priced fairly low ($5 - $10). But a popular play, or one with a "name" author, or any number of unpredictable circumstances could bump the cost up a lot.
....For a musical the picture is more complicated. The companies charge:

-- a Security fee, which you get back if everything is returned in perfect condition, on time;
-- a Royalty fee, usually a charge per performance;
-- a Rental fee, the charge for a standard set of books, "sides", and orchestra parts, rented to you for (typically) two months before the show until a week after closing;
-- any additional fees you may wish for extra books or music, or additional rental time.

For a recent well-known musical in a 300-seat house for 10 performances, the royalties were $340 per show, the rental fee was $750, and the deposit was $400, so we sent them $4550. I've seen some as high as twice that, and others under $1000 total. When you plan a musical you must do some careful arithmetic. If you are going to spend more money than you will receive through ticket sales and grants (if any), you may need to re-think the concept.
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Q: Are the fees negotiable?
A: Not really. Occasionally we can use the alumni/ae network to find someone who will give us a break, or help out in some way. But the fees quoted by the royalty companies apply to all performances, whether charity, benefit, or regular amateur. These companies do almost all their business with colleges, high schools, and community theatres-- don't expect a plea for mercy to work.
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Q: Can I get the show?
A: Not always. Sometimes a given show is taken off the market for a while, most often if there is a professional production up. Never assume the rights are available until you have assurance from the copyright holder.
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Q: Can I change the show?
A: Probably not. Most royalty contracts prohibit any alterations in the show. Some are more explicit than others, but usually the answer is going to be no. A reason is that the work is the property of the author, only the author can authorize revisions, and with the author unavailable no one is in a position to override this restriction. This is yet another reason to carefully read the perusal copy before committing to the show.
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Q: How would they know?
A: Not really the right question: the point is you have a contract, and both parties have a right to expect that contract to be honored. Besides, most contracts include the right of the owner to get free seats, and require you to send them programs, posters, etc. Honor the contract.
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Q:What happens next?
A:At the Loeb Drama Center, meet with the ART staff to arrange for rights. For all other Harvard shows, you will want to read our step-by-step instructions and meet with Dana Knox.
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