The Young Dramatists Issue 1
Dramatist’s Bill of Rights: Ownership of Intellectual Property

Playwrights, composers, lyricists, and librettists often struggle professionally in theatres due to the wide-ranging demands and expectations imposed on them by their producers (and other collaborators). It is essential, therefore, that dramatists know their rights, which the Dramatists Guild established in 1926 and has defended ever since.

To protect their unique vision, which has always been the strength of the theatre, dramatists need to understand this fundamental principle: you own and control your work. To ensure this ownership and control, the Guild recommends that any production involving a dramatist incorporate a written agreement in which both the producer and the writer acknowledge certain key industry standards. Collectively, we call these ten basic points the Dramatist’s Bill of Rights.

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1. Ownership of Intellectual Property

To me, this is everything. This is the difference between writing plays and writing for TV and film (and I say this as someone who loves writing for TV and film.) I have written pilots and screenplays that I loved, believed in, was well-compensated for writing, and that never got made. When those projects got shelved, they were out of my hands forever. The rights didn’t belong to me, so I had no ability to do something else with my scripts. There is a specific kind of heartbreak that comes with this reality. Theatre is a place where you may know many kinds of heartbreak, but not that one. The plays you write will always be yours. You own their copyright and therefore you have the ability to make any number of key decisions over where and how and in what form those plays live in the world (many of these are further described by points 2-10 in the Bill of Rights).

Jen Silverman
Jen Silverman

is a playwright, screenwriter, and novelist. Plays include Spain, Collective Rage, The Moors, The Roommate, and Witch. Jen is the author of the books The Island Dwellers, We Play Ourselves, and There’s Going to Be Trouble (coming from Random House April 2024). Honors include fellowships from The National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim.