Teaching Drama

What’s the Peanalty for Videotaping a Play Without Permission?

Let’s face it – there is a lot of videotaping going on out there in those school theatres. Search the title of any popular play on YouTube and you’ll see what I mean.

Unless the play is in the public domain, you need permission (usually from the publisher or the author, depending on a number of factors) to make those recordings. Otherwise, your recording is probably illegal.

I think most people know that it’s illegal, but the reason that publishers will look the other way or never notice in the first place. I always knew it was illegal, but I didn’t realize how serious the consequences were for getting caught. According to entertainment lawyer and intellectual property expert Gordon Firemark:

The penalties for violations of these rules can exceed $150,000 per infringment, and each copy of the offending product can be considered an infringement. So, with a cast of 10, each receiving a copy, you’re talking about as much as $1.5 Million dollars.

Aside: I recently started following Firemark’s excellent blog. It covers all aspects of entertainment and copyright law and I always learn something from reading it.This particular post can be read in its entirety here.

Back to the matter at hand: 1.5 million dollars for ten copies? HOLY COW!!! That’s some serious coin. Enough to make one sit up and take notice.

About two years ago we started offering optional videorecording licenses for groups that are performing our plays. Our customers love it. And they’re priced at a tiny fraction of the infringement penalties.

About the author

Craig Mason

7 Comments

  • Thank you for your kind words about my blog. I’m pleased to have found an audience, and always glad to provide useful information. Please let me know if you identify any issues on which I may be able to shed some light!

  • That is why I have been writing the school musicals for 15 years. As the author I get to dictate how the play is used.

    Especially in elementary school, parents and children should be able to film and relive those events. It is actually more important to me that the students and families discover, enjoy and love the theatre experience.

    Those students will be the future audience that theatre companies and playwrights will depend on . . . best to give them all a lifetime of memories. On tape with me is just fine!

  • It is the mark of a truly good writer to allow the taping of performances of his/her work with minimal fuss and expense. How ironic it is to me that the more famous and successful a work is, the LESS flexible owners tend to be. But those who could most stand the extra income as they are more obscure, tend to be the most open with their rights.

    I don’t advocate breaking the law. I just advocate some sort of change that makes it easier for more people to do this without penalty.

  • An allowance should be made for archival recordings and personal use recordings of shows that are not shared for profit for amateur and academic productions. At the least an affordable video license contract for those purposes should be offered on a wider basis.