Elizabeth wrote in with a question about having a character in her play sing a song…
I'm entertainment lawyer Gordon Firemark, and this is Asked and Answered, where I provide answers to common legal questions, so you can take your career and business in entertainment to the next level…
Elizabeth writes: “hello! I am writing a play and I have a character that I'd like to sing a song. She would be performing it unaccompanied OR with very, very limited live accompaniment… My question is two fold: first, can I do this without obtaining rights? and two: should my play be published in the future would it be illegal to have the lyrics written in it? thank you so much!”
Ok, Elizabeth, the answer to your question is this. You probably DO need to get permission, that is a license, to use the song in your show. What we are talking about here are Dramatic Performance rights, commonly referred to as “Grand Rights”.
It really doesn't matter whether the character is singing a Capella, or with live accompaniment, or even singing along with a recording… What matters is that the you're making a public performance of the composition, and that is one of the exclusive rights held by the copyright owner.
And, publishing the play with the lyrics is both making and distributing a copy of those lyrics, and making a derivative work from the original composition. And, you guessed it, those are also exclusive rights of the copyright owner.
So, you're going to need to get a license.
How do you do that? Well, start by heading over to www.ASCAP.com and www.BMI.com and searching their repertoire for the song. On you find it, look for the publisher… Or publishers (there could be several), and contact them with your request.
Your request should include a description of the play, and the specific scene where the song is used. You also need to describe HOW the song is use, and now much… Something Like:
“Full use, performed by actors on stage”
And you'll need to tell them where and when the shoe will be performed, number of seats, ticket price, and so on.
Then, you wait, and follow up after a few weeks. These kinds of requests are usually pretty low-priority at the publishers… But eventually, they'll get back to you with a quote… Naming a price for the use.
Now, I know, you're probably just thinking about writing this p,any, and probably don't have a place, time, or theatre in mind yet… And that's part of the catch-22 here… The publishers won't issue a license until you've got a producer ready to put up the play, but producers usually won't to a play unless all rights at free and clear.
It's sometimes possible to strike a deal with a publisher, sort of informally, where they let you include the song in the script, but require a negotiated license for any production.
Not ideal,but manageable. Having a knowledgeable, experienced entertainment lawyer help with this can be very beneficial… So get some help.
If you have an entertainment law question on your mind, submit it at https://firemark.com/questions.
See you next time.
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