Rights for the screening of an old play production?
July 22, 2021 4:27 AM   Subscribe

We would like to screen (over zoom via screensharing) a video of an old play we put on about 20 years ago, to a private group. Do we need the rights, again?

We put on a play 20 years ago, for which we bought the rights. We've found a video, and as a way to have a reunion in covid-times would like to screen the video - but also 'simulcast' it over zoom for those who were in the play, but who are now living far away. We anticipate no more than 10 people, maximum, will log in. We had some concerns about the rights, however? Is this a violation, or allowable as it's a private group, not posted perpetually (one time screening), and not for any money/ticket sales? Thanks!!
posted by johnsohl to Media & Arts (11 answers total)
You almost certainly don't have the rights to do this, but if it's a private thing for just a few people it's very unlikely that anyone will notice or care.
posted by mskyle at 5:11 AM on July 22 [6 favorites]

Agreeing with mskyle— it’s likely technically disallowed. The original agreement probably did not allow video — or might have allowed one archival video. But that said — not that “people do it all the time” (watch their not-really-legal videos at cast parties etc) is any kind of justification— the truth is, no one will know or care.
posted by profreader at 5:18 AM on July 22 [1 favorite]

First, read your contract.
posted by JimN2TAW at 5:56 AM on July 22 [2 favorites]

Just another thread down, someone astutely pointed out that what is technically legal and what is ethical often have little to do with each other.

I have no legal training so I won't address that aspect, but I think you're ethically in the clear to show a recording of a play to the goddam troupe that put it on.
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:03 AM on July 22 [4 favorites]

Oh man, please don't give the rights holders the headache of responding to you. Just do it, don't advertise publically.
posted by stray at 6:04 AM on July 22 [9 favorites]

Better to beg forgiveness than to ask permission.
posted by emelenjr at 6:10 AM on July 22 [1 favorite]

I have a tendency to over-think this kind of thing. I think you share that tendency with me! Just do it: especially since there's no money changing hands here the incentive for anyone to go after you just doesn't exist.
posted by simonw at 6:11 AM on July 22

You're not making money off of this, and you're watching it among a closed group of people, and no one "in charge" would even know you're doing it. I'm a musician and I'm all for people getting paid for their works, but nobody will give even a fraction of a shit about you doing this.
posted by jonathanhughes at 6:18 AM on July 22 [4 favorites]

If you're watching it with the people who were in the play, and you're not going to advertise or sell tickets, then it is highly doubtful anyone would even know that you are doing this and want to go after you.

But if you are really trying to dot your i's and cross your t's - I do know that one exception to Actors Equity's "don't videotape a performance" rule is "but if you're the director and you want to make a tape for your own records, it's okay" - like, you want to have a copy to remind yourself "say, that technique we used for the video effects for scene 6 worked really well, lemme save a copy of how that looked in case I wanna try that with a different show." You could argue that you are all revisiting your prior performance for your own collective study.

Granted, that is the actors' union rule which is trying to protect the actors as opposed to the playwright. But I would be kind of surprised if there was not some similar clause in place there, and anyway - again, if you're just showing a video at a reunion of the cast and it's a private party, who's gonna know? (If you're still uneasy, consider how many 6th-grade school plays get videotaped by parents and shown to Grandma so she can see how Preston did as the 6th Munchkin from the left, and yet we never hear of the Frank Oz estate coming after them.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:20 AM on July 22 [2 favorites]

For anyone saying Just do it. Ask for forgiveness, not permission. lots of groups and schools have learned a very hard and expensive lesson that way. That's presumably why the question is being asked. Call a local theatre, ask who their lawyer is. Maybe talk to the manager, see if they have expertise. And read the original contract, if possible. I think it's ethically really okay, and the risk of discovery is very low, but that's not what you asked.
posted by theora55 at 8:06 AM on July 22 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you so much, everyone! That helps a lot - especially in confirming my hunches. We're very keen to make sure that we treat authors and publishers properly in the industry (!), but equally paying full rights for one screening isn't something we can afford to do, really. I'll try and find our old agreement - but 20 years is ages! lol
posted by johnsohl at 12:25 PM on July 22

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