Obtaining Rights

The First Step
Your legal obligations explained

The rights for most plays and musicals are held by play publishing houses (also known as "royalty houses") on behalf of the authors -- which means that you cannot produce a copyrighted play or musical without written permission.

It is true that most plays and musicals written before 1920 (Shakespeare or Gilbert & Sullivan, for example) are in the Public Domain, which means that they may be produced without payment of royalties.   However, this refers only to the original script.  If you use a modern translation of a Moliere comedy, for example, the new version will be protected by copyright. 

Once you have decided on a copyrighted script for production, contact the publisher.  If you don't know the publisher, see our "Play Sources" page to use the Doollee Search.  If you do know the publisher, our "Play Sources" page provides links to them, as well.

To obtain the rights to produce a play or musical, complete the following steps:
1. Determine which play publishing house has the rights to the play you wish to produce. Each company has a catalogue and/or online listing that will indicate a royalty fee. However, be aware that the fee for your particular organization may differ.
2.

You should call the company to find out if the play is available for production. In some instances, plays are "restricted" which means that a particular play/musical is not available for production. Never assume that a play is available, you should always check with the play publishing house before you advertise or begin work on the production.

3.

Once you have determined that the play is not restricted, contact the publishing house in writing.

Generally the following information is needed in order to provide a royalty quote:

  • Play Title
  • Producing organization
  • Place of performance (City, State & Theatre)
  • Seating capacity
  • Ticket prices
  • Nonprofit or for-profit group
  • Number of performances
  • Performance dates
  • Equity (Actor’s Union) or non-Equity production
4. Once your letter is received, you will be sent a quote for the royalty fee and if acceptable, a contract may be sent. Some companies however will simply send an invoice.
5. Be aware that for plays, the royalty fee covers the royalty only. Scripts are extra, however, plays may also be ordered directly from the publishing house.
6. For musicals, the fees to produce a work are generally higher with a royalty fee, a rental fee (for scripts and scores) and a refundable security deposit.

Portions of this content by courtesy of the College of Fine Arts - University of Texas at Austin

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