BY ELIAS STIMAC | LAST UPDATED: NOVEMBER 5, 2019
“. . . . GUILD PROTECTION
Any writer of stage plays and musicals will benefit from becoming a member of The Dramatists Guild of America. This New York-based organization and its council are committed to protecting the rights of its membership. The Guild does so by educating its members about what their rights are, and pointing out things they should be looking for contractually to protect themselves-including ownership of copyright and retaining control over all artistic matters involving a production.
According to this group’s mission statement, “It is the artistic heritage of the playwright and a longstanding principle of The Dramatists Guild of America that the dramatist owns and controls the intellectual property, including the copyright, of the author’s script and of all changes of any kind whatsoever in the manuscript, title, stage business or performance of the play.”
Christopher Wilson, executive director of the Dramatists Guild, states, “We can certainly suggest to people what they should and should not do. The model contracts that we provide for people to use in their negotiations do contain what we feel are the appropriate provisions regarding copyright control and artistic control in a way that the author owns the copyright, no changes can be made to the work without the author’s approval, and any changes the author approves belong to the author. In terms of the artistic side, the author gets a veto on all the creative matters: casting, director, designer.
“The Dramatists Guild unfortunately cannot act as anybody’s enforcement agent; we won’t represent somebody as their lawyer or anything like that-we’re just not equipped to do that. Primarily we see our mission as being able to help people protect themselves by educating them about what they need to do.”
Wilson lists the following essential elements that should be remembered when trying to keep control over your written work:
1) The writer owns the copyright.
2) No changes may be made to the writer’s work without the writer’s explicit approval, and any such approved changes belong to the writer.
3) The writer has approval over all principal artistic elements of a production.
4) Following the production, the writer controls all subsequent exploitations of the work. That is, the writer, and only the writer, can license a new or different production, publication, or the like.
The Dramatists Guild is also helpful when talks turn to contracts. “Many producers will provide the contract for a specific production. We always recommend that people hire a lawyer to make sure that their interests are protected,” says Wilson. “The guild can certainly talk to people and their lawyers about some of the business points and what our view is, as to things they should be looking for in a contract. Not all producers and theatres have contracts, and even when they do, sometimes people find that they don’t want to use them. Certainly for our members we can provide samples, which are a good place to start, in terms of what they would be looking for in a contract, and it’s a starting point for their negotiations with a producer.”