Join 3,561 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Reading Aloud Allowed?
December 24, 2012 8:19 AM   Subscribe

What are the legal rights and obligations of someone reading aloud in public from a published book?

I'm participating in an event that involves reading some excerpts from a book.

- Admission will be charged

- Full credit will be given to the author

- The book in question is an autobiography, but the person is dead and not terribly well known, the book itself is over 30 years old and out of print, and other factors indicate that no one is closely guarding the estate.

- This will occur in the state of New York

- Parts of the event could be recorded

If the (middle-tier) publisher caught wind of my reading, how likely is it that they would care, given that the book is so old? Would notifying them be more likely to work for or against me?

BONUS QUESTION: how would the answer(s) change if the book was currently in print, and written by a more well-known person with a living descendant who was far more active in their predecessor's estate? Would there be grounds for them to legally interfere with such an event it they caught wind of it in advance?
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Stephen Joyce is famous for having prevented readings of James Joyce's work. The fact that this is so commented upon may mean you don't have much to worry about for the actual reading.
posted by BibiRose at 8:25 AM on December 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


First, find out if the book is still under copyright. If so, you need permission from the author's estate or literary rep.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:45 AM on December 24, 2012


People do do this - there was a staged reading of Anne Heche's memoir Call Me Crazy, and there's a comedy (stage) series called Celebrity Autobiography: In Their Own Words. I'm guessing they would say that the performance was protected as parody? There was definitely some kerfuffle about the Anne Heche thing but I forget how it worked out.

Out of print makes no legal difference, and I suspect the person being dead doesn't make a difference either, except that people are less likely to find out or care.
posted by mskyle at 9:05 AM on December 24, 2012


I'm not a copyright lawyer or anything but I would think that this would count as a public performance of a copyrighted work, which would be an infringement of the copyright owner's rights if done without their permission.

See this note on Wikipedia concerning a court case that considered the definition of a performance in regards to copyright. Here's a definition of "public".
posted by XMLicious at 9:41 AM on December 24, 2012


BONUS QUESTION: how would the answer(s) change if the book was currently in print, and written by a more well-known person with a living descendant who was far more active in their predecessor's estate? Would there be grounds for them to legally interfere with such an event it they caught wind of it in advance?

In both cases it's a performance for which money is changing hands, and while I imagine the legality is unchanged, the answer might change from "Easier to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission" to "Easier to ask for permission".

The situation as previously described, I would put in the "easier to beg for forgiveness" category :)
posted by anonymisc at 3:09 PM on December 24, 2012


« Older My SO is planning on taking LS...   |  How do I, using common househo... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.