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Copyright Protects Playwrights’ Rite of Writing

The legal heart of any creative production is its copyright. When a playwright (or author or filmmaker or other creator) composes material, they write down the specific dialog, or describes the scene, and chooses the precise words to use. Copyright law does not protect the general ideas and themes. Copyright does protect against the unauthorized use of how those ideas and themes are expressed in writing. The author owns the series of words written that form the work.

The same principles apply to what the playwright or any author should consider when using material from pre-existing works. If the new creation uses material from others that is the specific expression, and not just the idea, the writer must obtain a license from the original author. The license should allow usage in all ways the final work could be used, whether on stage, in a movie, or via other media.  If the playwright/author is merely using themes or ideas, then no permission is needed.

Once the author’s work is completed, consider adding a copyright notice to any copies distributed. Although copyright notice is not necessary, and does not legally add significant legal rights, the notice gives a warning to any recipient not to use the material without the author’s permission. For strongest protection, an author should register the work, as a rite of protecting the copyright in that playwright’s writings.

Ned T. Himmelrich
410-576-4171 • nhimmelrich@gfrlaw.com