In response to persistent and troubling reports of copyright infringement within high school and college theater departments, the Dramatists Guild has launched a new initiative called #DontChangeTheWords to help inform students, educators, and the public in general about copyright and how it protects artists’ rights.
As part of the initiative, the Guild’s website (www.dramatistsguild.com) includes information about copyright law and how it works in commercial, not-for-profit, and educational theater. Topics covered include what is and isn’t permissible when a play or musical is performed (whether onstage or in a classroom); how to request a script change; what are the ramifications to writers when their work is stolen or illegally altered; and how to anonymously report copyright infringement.
In addition to the updated website, the Guild’s Education Committee, co-chaired by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwrights Marsha Norman and David Lindsay-Abaire, has spent the last few months going to theater festivals and classrooms around the country, answering questions about copyright, distributing #DontChangeTheWords promotional materials, and informing students and educators about how they can best help protect and respect artists’ work. Lindsay-Abaire has written a short play on the subject, Can I Change the Words or Music, which is available through the Dramatists Guild and Dramatists Play Service. "We are very happy to lend our support (as well as our trademarked cover design for the publication of David's short play) to this very important initiative of the Dramatists Guild," says Peter Hagan, President of Dramatists Play Service. "Since 1936, when the Guild was a co-founder of DPS, we have worked to protect the rights of playwrights and to educate our buyers in both the professional and nonprofessional markets about the importance of respecting the work which our playwrights own. The Guild's work in this area is more essential now than ever before."
Lindsay-Abaire writes, “We at the Guild have always been indebted to the invaluable contributions of the educators and drama teachers who work tirelessly to instill the love of theater and respect for artists in their students. So it comes as no surprise that the Education and Copyright Advocacy Committees’ #DontChangeTheWords initiative has been met with such overwhelming support from our fellow teachers and teaching artists on the frontlines, all eager to help us get the word out. Almost every day the Guild hears about productions going up with unauthorized changes being made to our scripts and scores. Scenes are edited, dialog is rewritten, lyrics are tweaked, songs are rearranged, and characters are cut or added, all of it without the authors’ permission. While some of these infringements are knowing and willful, just as many are a result of not understanding the rules. And though the violations happen in all corners of the theater world, professional as well as amateur, as teachers we feel we’re in a unique position to address some of these issues early on, and to help better create a community of theater-loving students and fellow-educators who fully understand and respect the rights of theater artists.”
The Dramatists Guild has been working with the Educational Theatre Association, a membership organization with over 135,000 theatre educators and students, to open the lines of communication between writers and educators. EdTA is also home of the International Thespian Society. EdTA Executive Director Julie Cohen Theobald has been at the center of these discussions. "We have heard from teachers around the country about the restrictions they face when staging work about challenging issues which provide students meaningful educational experiences," she says. "Educators care passionately about the shows they produce, and the new #DontChangeTheWords hotline can be used to reach out to dramatists and their publishers to discuss changes and obtain approval.”
As a part of its effort to support dramatists and their allies in the fight, the Guild has created a telephone hotline and email address, where anyone can anonymously report instances of copyright infringement – the Guild will reach out to writers, licensors, and publishers of theatrical works to follow up on the reports.
To anonymously report copyright infringement, or if you don’t know where to go to request a script change, you can call the #DontChangeTheWords hotline at 1-855-71-WORDS, to leave a report via voicemail. If you send a text to that same number, you will receive a link to fill out a report online that will be shared with the Guild’s Business Affairs department. You can also email email@example.com to report infringement in your area.
U.S. Copyright Law recognizes that writing is valuable work that contributes to the artistic legacy of our country. Writing is also intellectual property, created and owned by the author and protected by the author’s copyright. Authors need to be able to profit from their work in order to eat, feed their children, and continue to write. This is why the Dramatists Guild has fought to protect copyright for 100 years. The Guild hopes that the #DontChangeTheWords initiative will remind everyone that the work you’ve licensed should be performed as written, unless you get explicit permission from the author.
For more materials to distribute at your theaters or schools, please go to https://www.dramatistsguild.com/dont-change-the-words/ or contact the Dramatists Guild office via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.