A Rollicking Band of Pirates: Licensing the Exclusive Right of Public Performance in the Theatre Industry

A Rollicking Band of Pirates: Licensing the Exclusive Right of Public Performance in the Theatre Industry

Shane D. Valenzi · 14 Vand. J. Ent. & Tech. L. 759

Abstract

With ticket prices on Broadway at an all-time high, amateur and regional theatres are the only venues for theatrical productions to which most Americans are exposed. Licensing these performance rights—known as “stock and amateur rights”—is the primary source of income for many playwrights, even for those whose plays flopped at the highest level. However, the licensing houses responsible for facilitating these transactions frequently retain and exercise the ability to issue exclusive performance licenses to certain large regional theatres. This practice limits public access to particular works and restricts playwrights’ potential earnings in those works. Though this behavior does not amount to an antitrust violation, it does violate the spirit of copyright. The Dramatists’ Guild should mandate that its members limit the theatrical licensing houses’ ability to grant performance licenses to nonexclusive licenses only. Therefore, using the power of the guild, which acts as a quasi-labor union of playwrights, should be influential enough to insert this limitation into the standard-form contracts signed by playwrights. Furthermore, the licensing houses or individual playwrights would likely not oppose granting these exclusive licenses, as both parties would enjoy the additional revenue streams generated by the ability to issue multiple performance licenses.