Copyright in the Stage Direction of a Broadway Musical

Jessica D. Litman, University of Michigan Law School

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A Broadway musical production is a collaborative effort: a particular "play" comprises a bookwriter's book, a composer's music, a lyricist's lyrics, a choreographer's choreography, a director's direction, designers' designs and performers' performances. The rights of these parties in their respective contributions are defined by their contracts with the production's producer. All of the contracts involved in the production are, typically, based upon minimum basic agreements negotiated by organizations representing the artists' with the League of New York Theatres and Producers [League], an association of producers and theatre owners. The essential terms of these agreements were negotiated well before the enactment of the 1976 General Revision of Copyright Law Act. Their treatment of ownership and control of the creative materials that make up the production does not contemplate the provisions of the current law. This Note will examine ownership and control of the director's contribution to the production in light of the current copyright law and the relevant contracts. After examining the context in which the dispute over ownership of the director's work may arise, the Note briefly explores the nature of the director's contribution and its eligibility for copyright protection. The Note then turns to an analysis of the contractual provisions pertinent to ownership of any rights in the director's work. The Note concludes that the terms of the relevant contracts may, in some cases, create a director's joint authorship interest in the production, and recommends that the play's writers secure an assignment of the director's interest in return for a fair percentage of subsidiary participation in any subsequent exploitation of the play.