Copyright and Collaboration in the Theater

A Conference at Yale University
March 9th and 10th, 2018


Copyright frameworks in Anglo-American jurisdictions have celebrated the original author of the text - in theater, usually the playwright - according him or her the exclusive rights to a dramatic work including the right to perform, reproduce, and adapt that work. But as theater artists and scholars well know, theater is a highly collaborative art, dependent for success on the talents of designers, directors, actors, and innumerable other artists, producers, and technicians. Copyright law's devoted attention to authorship thus fits poorly with actual creativity in the theater, which arises from a wide array of individuals and through their process of collaboration.

This conference will explore connections and disconnections between copyright law in the theater and the actual practice of theater-making. Key questions include: What controversies between playwrights and other collaborators (designers, directors, actors, etc.) have emerged in the industry? What organizational frameworks or professional norms attempt to mitigate copyright law's failures? How do members of the theater community assert their legal authority? How has the history of copyright in the theater shaped its present form? What should the future of copyright and theater be?

We will combine the perspectives of legal scholars, theater historians and critics, and theater practitioners. We aim not simply to share research and assumptions about theater and copyright, but also to develop a sustainable dialogue about how theater artists can work better with copyright and how copyright can better serve the theater.