Cover art of the Environmental Issue: Digital Art of the sun rising on three birds
What Copyright Means to Me with Mindi Dickstein

When I was a kid and I watched television, I didn’t understand how television worked. I thought that, magically, it came out of the box into my house and there were maybe little tiny people inside. It was a very imaginative, magical interpretation. Lord knows I had no idea that someone actually wrote what I was watching.

Then I grew up and became a writer of musicals and I learned many, many things about how theatre (if not television) is made, including that something being written by someone, well, that is the essence of copyright.

Theatre writers don’t get paid wads of money up front like screenwriters do (in exchange, often, for their copyright). And musical writers, especially, work for years developing a show, earning much of what we are paid as an advance against royalties. But what we create is ours. We own it.

So, what I love about copyright is that I can create something in my house, far away from many, many people and close to some, and I can create it in such a way that others can hear it or play it or sing it long after I made it, whether live on a stage or via a recording, and I can get paid for that. And whether I write for myself or in exchange for advances, I can be rewarded for those years of effort.

This is what copyright means to me. Not only the sheer joy of writing and the knowledge that what I write will be treated with integrity and respect (“Don’t change the words!”), but the fact that when all is said and done, I can share my work in such a way that I get to pay my bills and write some more. Which is, in its own way, magical.


work includes Broad-way’s Little Women (lyrics), Benny & Joon (lyrics), Trip (book and lyrics), commissioned by Playwrights Horizons, and Toy Story-The Musical (book), for Disney. She has received a Larson Foundation Award, Massachusetts Artists and New York Foundation for the Arts Playwriting Fellow-ships, and a PEN International New Playwright Award.