Theatre Rights Information

In theatre, securing the appropriate rights is essential for legally staging a production. These include:
PRS Rights
Performing Rights Society (PRS) Rights cover the use of live and incidental music. This license is necessary when you use music that is either played live or recorded as part of your production. You should arrange for these licenses at least 30 days in advance. After the performance, report the music usage to the venue to ensure compliance and proper royalty payments.
Grand Rights
Grand Rights pertain to the performance of complete musical works, such as operas, ballets, and musical theatre productions. These rights are more complex than PRS Rights and typically require direct negotiation with the rights holder or their representative. It’s crucial to secure these rights early in the production planning process to avoid legal issues.
Play Rights
Play Rights are necessary for performing copyrighted plays. These are usually obtained from the playwright or their licensing agents, such as Samuel French, Dramatists Play Service, or other theatrical licensing agencies. The terms and costs can vary, so it’s important to handle this early on to ensure all permissions are in place.
Original Works
With your own original work or music, you don’t need to negotiate rights or pay fees. This gives you full control over the material and can simplify the production process.
Finding the Rights Controller
Securing the appropriate rights for a theatrical production involves identifying and contacting the rights controller, who manages the permissions for the work you wish to perform. Here’s how to find the rights controller:

  • Identify the Work: Start by identifying the title, author, and any specific version or adaptation of the play or musical you intend to perform.
  • Search Licensing Agencies: Check major licensing agencies such as:
  • Contact the Publisher: For less common works, contact the publisher directly. The publisher’s name is usually found on the title page of the script. Many publishers, such as Samuel French and Dramatists Play Service, have online databases where you can search for rights information.
  • Author’s Estate or Representative: If the work is out of print or the author manages their own rights, you may need to contact the author’s estate or their literary agent. This information can sometimes be found through writers’ guilds or professional organizations.
  • Use Professional Networks: Reach out to professional networks and forums. Other theatre producers, directors, and educators can often provide valuable insights and contacts for obtaining rights.
  • Check Performing Rights Organizations: Organizations like ASCAP, BMI, and PRS for Music can also provide information on who controls the rights to musical works.
  • Direct Inquiry: If all else fails, contact the author directly if they are still alive. Social media, professional directories, or the author’s personal or professional website can often provide contact information.

By thoroughly researching and reaching out to the appropriate parties, you can secure the necessary rights to legally perform the work. Always ensure that you have written permission and any required contracts in place before proceeding with rehearsals and performances.
Practical Tips

  • Plan Ahead: Start the process of securing all necessary rights well in advance of your first performance. This avoids legal complications and ensures a smooth production process.
  • Document Everything: Keep detailed records of all communications and agreements with rights holders and licensing agencies.
  • Compliance: Follow all reporting and compliance requirements set by licensing bodies to ensure ongoing legal use of the materials.

By understanding and managing these rights appropriately, you can ensure your production is legally compliant and avoid potential fines or legal action.
Rights Organisations
Key organisations for securing play and musical rights include:

  • MTI (Music Theatre International): Specialises in licensing musical theatre works for professional, amateur, and educational productions.
  • Nick Hern Books: Provides rights for contemporary plays and is known for publishing high-quality scripts.
  • Samuel French: One of the oldest and most comprehensive agencies for play licensing, offering a wide range of dramatic works.
  • Theatrical Rights Worldwide (TRW): Focuses on licensing musical theatre, with a diverse catalogue of popular and contemporary shows.