Broadway’s Titanic is the second time the great ship has sunk in a musical on the Great White Way. The original production of The Unsinkable Molly Brown included a lavish depiction of the sinking of the ship and Molly rallying the troupes in her lifeboat.
The Performance License
After creating a show, theatre writers copyright their work, protecting their ownership of it and allowing them - and only them or their duly appointed representatives (in this case, MTI) - to decide who may perform the show, where it may be performed, how it may be performed and how much will be charged for the privilege of using their work. This dramatic performance right (or "grand right") is known as an "intellectual property right"; the show is the "intellectual property" of the authors. On their behalf, MTI grants a license to produce the show and collects a fee, known as a"royalty," for this license for all performances. Built into each and every performance license is specific language which governs how the copyrighted work must be presented. MTI’s responsibilities include enforcing copyright law as it pertains to grand rights (prohibiting changes to the show, monitoring unlicensed productions, etc.), as well as protecting certain productions from competition in geographical markets (which is why performance rights to a certain show may be unavailable, or "restricted").
How A Group Gets A Performance License
After a group has chosen a show from the MTI catalogue, they send or complete a license application online providing us with specific information as to their performance dates and times and the number and prices of the tickets they plan to sell. Assuming the show is not restricted, MTI grants a license quoting the fees.
Licensing Fees and How They Are Determined
In licensing musicals, MTI charges three basic fees: royalty, rental and security deposit.
- Royalty Fee:
Royalties are the authors’ way of being paid for the use of their show (their "intellectual property").The authors of a musical may include the bookwriter (who writes thedialogue), the composer (who writes the music), and the lyricist (who writes the words to the music). Their right to be paid for use of their work is guaranteed by the copyright laws of this and other countries and is the basis of theatrical licensing.
- Rental Fee:
Rental fees are charged for the materials we supply to your theatre organization in conjunction with a performance license. These materials include the performance materials (scripts, scores, etc.) and the MTI Theatrical Resources. [It should be noted that MTI’s materials are created and provided to licensees for use solely in conjunction with a performance license.]
- Security Deposit:
Because rental materials remain MTI’s property and must be returned at the conclusion of your production, MTI collects a security deposit on each performance license, which is refunded upon the return of the materials. Any shipping, damage or lost materials fees are deducted from the deposit.
Once a customer receives a license, they must fill it out, sign it and return it to MTI with payment of all fees. An MTI performance license is only valid for six weeks from the date of issue. Therefore, in order to secure the rights outlined in the license, it must be returned - signed and with payment- within the six week timeframe. If it is not returned as outlined above, show availability and the fees quoted may be withdrawn or changed. If the dates or other details of the production change from the original application as reflected in the license, the group must notify MTI in writing immediately, since changes can affect the availability and conditions of a license.
Royalties for special events,benefits, etc.
Any presentation of a musical from MTI that takes place in front of an assembly of people (no matter how few) is considered royalty-bearing under the law, whether or not admission is charged. This can include "invited" dress rehearsals, or contest excerpts. A valid performance license is required for all of these performances. If a group has any questions whether or not a performance may require a royalty, they should contact their licensing representative at MTI. The importance of obtaining a license for all royalty-bearing performances cannot be stressed too strongly, as the penalties for violating Federal copyright law are severe indeed.
Responsibilities of the Producing Organization
During rehearsals, the director or producer may find that some changes are required to make the show work in their theatre. Or they may feel making "minor adjustments" to a show (such as changing the gender of a character or changing the name of a town to give it local significance) is inconsequential to its integrity, or believe they have the right to"experiment" with the authors’ intentions as an expression of their artistic vision.
This is not the case.
When you are granted a performance license, by law the show you license must be performed "as is." You have no right to make any changes at all unless you have obtained prior written permission from us to do so. Otherwise, any changes violate the authors’ rights under federal copyright law. Without prior permission from MTI, your actions may subject you to liability - not only to the authors, but also to us - for breaching the terms of your license agreement, which clearly forbids you to make any changes or deletions. Occasionally, new versions of shows are created when the authors or someone the authors have approved reconceives the piece. However, only the authors have the right to make these revisions, and they rarely grant third parties permission to do so. If you feel you must experiment with reconceiving a show, there are many already in the public domain (Shakespeare, Gilbert and Sullivan) which are no longer protected by U.S. copyright law. It’s important to remember that under Federal copyright law, not only can the director or producer who decided to change the work be held liable, but the entire production staff, cast and crew -- even the owner of the building, can be held liable, whether or not they knew they were part of a willful violation of copyright law.
Sometimes a particular musical MTI represents will not be available for local production at the time a group wants to perform it. A restriction of this kind may be put on a show when a national tour or a large professional production is taking place in their community or region. Restrictions may block out local performances prior to and after the run of such a production. Because restrictions are put in place or lifted at any given moment, it is always important for an organization to obtain a license and send it back to MTI with payment to "hold" their rights before announcing a production. If an organization has a valid license and a show becomes restricted, in most cases MTI will be able to honor that previous commitment, even though rights for other organizations in the same area may subsequently be denied.
Related Copyright Issues
The rights that MTI is able to grant under our contract with the author(s) are limited to "Grand Rights." Grand Rights cover the right to present the show, in its entirety, on stage. These rights do not include performance of a single song or medleys ("Small Rights"), videotaping, use of a logo or merchandising. In some instances, MTI has separately negotiated representation of additional rights, but those are administered on a show by show basis.
"Small Rights" is a term used to cover performances of individual songs in a concert or cabaret-type setting. There are three major agencies that control these rights: SESAC (Society of European Stage Authors and Composers), ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Author and Publishers), or BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.). Depending upon the songs that are being performed, licenses may be required from one, two or all three of these organizations for a single presentation. Most schools, churches, restaurants and clubs pay an annual fee to obtain a "blanket license" from these licensing agencies that covers the "small rights" use of all music in their respective catalogues for the year. As a related topic, occasionally MTI is approached by a group looking to either a) create a revue based on a composer’s body of work, or around a theme (i.e., "love songs") or b) take existing songs from shows and put them into a new dramatic context. Neither of these examples would be covered under a "small rights" license since their thematic nature or imposed story line would create what is considered a "dramatico-musical work" under Federal copyright law. Generally these types of requests must be denied due to the complex issues surrounding "merged works" (musicals where collaborators, estates, trustees, producers, etc. all share in the royalty pool).
Once a performance license is issued, MTI provides, on a rental basis, all materials necessary to produce the show. The materials are created from masters that have been provided by the author(s) of the work and are the ONLY authorized materials for rehearsal and performances. These may include the following: The Script (known as a libretto or, when combined with the vocal parts, a libretto/vocal book or L/V); The Piano/Vocal Score (often referred to as the P/V, this book has the piano part as well as all of the vocal lines); The Piano/Conductor Score (or P/C, which is similar to the P/V, but which includes cues from the show’s orchestration for a conductor who may also be playing the keyboard part); The Full Score (in which all of the orchestra parts are arranged on the page for the conductor’s reference); and The Orchestra Parts (individual instrumental books for each musician in the pit orchestra).
During rehearsals, you might find that some changes are required to make the show work in your theatre. Whenever you feel the need to make a change, it is important that you contact MTI and make sure that you can get permission to make the change. When you are granted a performance license, by law the show you license must be performed “as is.” You should not make any changes unless you have obtained prior written permission from us to do so. Otherwise, any changes violate the authors’ rights under Federal Copyright Law. Contact us — it’s always safest to ask.
MTI Theatrical Resources provide new ways to delight and instruct all who participate in a MTI musical, whether onstage, backstage, or in the audience. MTI Theatrical Resources, designed to alleviate some of the most frequent hurdles encountered during the rehearsal process, include solutions to finding/scheduling a rehearsal pianist, transposing music into appropriate keys, webbing themes from the show throughout the curriculum and finding easy solutions for scenic challenges. An overview of all MTI Theatrical Resources are included in this site.
Copyright law gives authors the exclusive right to control the reproduction of their work. When MTI grants a license for a live stage production of a show, that license does not include the right to tape it because the authors retain the sole right to decide when or if their work is recorded in any way. Even a videotape made for classroom use, as a personal memento or as an archival school record violates the authors’ separate right to reproduce their work. In many cases, the authors have already granted such rights exclusively to film or television companies, in which case you would also be infringing upon the rights granted by the authors to a third party.
Logos, like other elements of a production are covered by copyright and trademark law. Generally the rights to an original logo used on Broadway will be controlled by the artist, or in some cases by the producer if the artist produced the logo on a "for hire" basis. Using the original logo without obtaining permission is prohibited. Many organizations design their own logos, and MTI also has obtained rights to license certain logos. Logos can legally be used in conjunction with the promotion of a show - on posters, programs and flyers. If an organization is looking to create merchandise, such as t-shirts, mugs, key chains, etc. that will be sold to the public, a separate licensing agreement must be obtained, which can be difficult. As soon as someone begins making money based on the "name" of a show, then the author(s) become entitled to a share of the profit, and also have the power to control whether or not such merchandise may be disseminated.
There may be other issues that arise during a production that could violate the terms of the license granted by MTI. The license that MTI issues is specific to the performance of the work as limited by MTI’s contract with the author(s) to represent that work. Even if a situation is not directly covered in the license agreement, it should not be assumed that it is "okay to proceed." Federal copyright law is very liberal in the rights granted to authors. That’s why MTI encourages organizations to contact us with any questions they may have regarding any aspect of their production -- it’s always safest to ask.