What is a theatrical license?

A theatrical license is permission to perform a live theatrical production of a song (or perhaps more often, an entire musical show) that someone else wrote. Examples include live stage performances of beloved shows such as My Fair Lady, Oklahoma, or The Phantom of the Opera. Theatre is popular among all ages and abilities and can include elementary, middle, and high school productions, community theater, off-broadway, and broadway productions.

Do you need a theatrical license?

Whenever you perform a live theatrical musical production with visual elements such as costumes, props, or set pieces, you will need a theatrical license directly from the copyright holder or their agency.

A theatrical license is required no matter how small a portion you use. There are some exceptions where a theatrical license is not required: You don't need a theatrical license for songs or shows that you wrote yourself or songs that are in the public domain.

Who gets paid?

A theatrical license pays a royalty to the copyright holder of the composition (song or show). This is typically the composer or their publisher. However, sometimes rights are sold. If theatrical rights are sold, a song might have a new owner, other than the original composer or publisher. When you hire us for custom licensing assistance, we research and discover the current copyright holders for you.

How do you get a theatrical license?

A theatrical license is obtained by asking the copyright holder for permission directly, or by contacting an agency. The copyright holder is typically the composer or their publisher, unless ownership has changed hands. A list of agencies that can help you get this permission is available here. For several popular Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, visit RNH.com. We also offer theatrical licensing help for a fee. Learn more about our custom licensing services.

Note that theatrical licenses are custom negotiated with the copyright holder. This can be challenging because, by law, theatrical rights holders maintain total control of their works. This means they can set any fee, take all the time they need, and reject the license outright. Many factors affect the response, including budget, use, and even the current workload of the copyright holder’s processing department. For this reason, it is important to temper expectations when requesting a theatrical license.

When should you have your theatrical licensing in place?

Theatrical licenses must be secured before public display of the production. We suggest making your request many months before your anticipated production date. It is also smart to have at least one backup plan in place, in case you are unable to get the theatrical rights you want.

When happens if you don't get a license?

We are not in the business of enforcement. However there are publishers, labels, and third parties out there who do actively seek out copyright violators. The result can be permanent damage to your reputation, stopping of the production, and in some cases legal action. Will you get caught? Maybe. Maybe not. But there are many more reasons to do things right than just the fear of getting caught. Check out all our reasons to get a license.

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