How do you persuade your competitors and colleagues to comply with copyrights and contract provisions?
Hi, I'm attorney Gordon Firemark, and this is Asked and Answered, where I answer your entertainment law questions, to help you take your career and business to the next level.
I got this inquiry from a gentleman who serves on the board of directors for a non-profit theatre company. He says:
“We have a code of conduct that our members sign which asks us to speak up if we see anything illegal happening in the theatre community. Until recently, our members were willing to sign this code, but there are reservations now because our newest members found themselves involved with productions which broke the law.
No one wants to speak up out of fear of being ostracized in an already fragmented community, but if we don't, then these violations will continue until one day, they will get caught and closed down. The compromise we have reached among ourselves is to simply ask the producers of shows which violate copyright if they are allowed to do what they are doing, but I don't think this enough to protect themselves.
The reason I am contacting you is to get advice on how to convince other companies to honor the copyrights and contracts of other artists and companies before they get in trouble on their own.
Well, First of all, I I applaud this conscientious approach to copyright. It’s quite rare, I’m afraid.
Now, generally I don’t think it’s really your obligation to police other companies’ compliance unless their actions impact your company. If that’s the case then I see it as an absolute obligation, and probably a dereliction of duty for nonprofit board members to ignore such threats.
Competitors doing shows without paying for the rights, or in violation of the license agreements DOES put your company at a disadvantage. Complying with the law has a cost… So they’re spending less to achieve what you pay full freight to do. Not fair.
So how do you convince folks to respect copyrights and contracts? All you can do is ask. You don’t want to be the “tattletale” in the fragmented community you mentioned, but if you suspect they’re not in compliance, you can let them know that you’re going to check with the copyright owners about whether their productions are properly licensed. OR, you could also find a copyright-friendly local reporter and anonymously tip him/her off when you suspect a show isn’t properly licensed. You could also write editorials, blogs, etc., and take out some ads in programs, etc., to educate the public. Basically, appeal to the community, and the patrons… To support only the shows that are doing things legally.
But ultimately, can you really influence them? I don’t know… until they get slapped with a nastygram from Samuel French’s lawyers, or a lawsuit. Then they’ll see the error of their ways.
You might point out that a single lawsuit could cost a company its entire existence. Lawyer fees alone could easily be more than the budget for an entire season, and the damage award for infringement can go as high as $150,000 per infringement. (i.e., each performance).
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