Photographing theatrical productions, etc

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by firecracker, Dec 26, 2005.

  1. firecracker

    firecracker Member

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    I've always been having a question about whether it's okay to take photographs of theatrical productions. I must confess that I've done it for a coule of semi-professional small theatrical productions in the past because simply the production people needed a few images for the press and so on.

    I know, according to the rule by the U.S. publishing houses, it's not okay. Actually they say no photographing or recording of the plays of which rights belong to their playrights are allowed. I 100 percent respect that, but since my purpose of photographing these productions is not really all that commercial (I mean yes, but in a very very small scale), I get stranded.

    One thing I have to be very clear is that I've always shot those photos as decent snap shots for my friends, and it's for courtesy, meaning there's no money involved. None.

    So could anyone help me find an answer for this?
     
  2. haris

    haris Guest

    1. Go to the responsible person in theater, or production of play and ask for permission.

    2. As I know usually you would hardly get permission to make photographs at time when play is presented for public. You will probably get permission to photograph general rehearsal (actors/tresses in costumes, scenery as needed, etc...)
     
  3. firecracker

    firecracker Member

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    Haris, thanks for the reply. However, the production people are fine. They are all clear with me. But maybe the publishing house and etc, if the photos are used afterwards in a long run like being posted on their web site or something. That's what I'm concerned about a bit because originally I was the one who agreed to record their images on film.

    For my photo exhibiting purpose, there should be any problem by using their images I took, but for the general purpose of the promotion of the theater, there may be a problem. I don't know, but do people care about it as much?
     
  4. papagene

    papagene Membership Council

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    I am sure that the people putting on the play have already paid some kind of fee to put on the play. The play's copyright covers the words in the play and usually not the visuals, which change from production to production through the directors'/producers' interpretation.
    If the people putting on the play have asked you to photograph the production for publicity purposes, I will assume that they are responsible for copyright issues.
    Unless you are recording (audio) the words or photographing the text, I would think you are all set. But in this age of over-litigation, do some investigating.
    I have photographed local theatrical productions in the past and have had no problems.
    good luck!

    gene
     
  5. firecracker

    firecracker Member

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    Exactly. That's my point. It's just too hard to know what's beyond being legal. I checked a couple of web sites of the publishing houses and read the statements of copyright laws, but that wasn't enough of an explanation, I thought. So I posted a question here since we're photographers of some kind.

    However, I used to do some video work as well in theaters, and I did some recordings. I have the audio, but that was for personal use only. And in some still photos I took, I have the letters such as the titles of the plays. But again they are personal in a way.

    Do you think it's better to ask the publishing house directly on this? Or they might not fully understand the problem because they could be over-reacting to whatever seems violating their rules.
     
  6. MattCarey

    MattCarey Member

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    Here is a statement from the MTI website covering videotaping (I couldn't find a statement on photography).

    "Copyright law gives authors the exclusive right to control the reproduction of their work. When MTI grants a license for a live stage production of a show, that license does not include the right to tape it because the authors retain the sole right to decide when or if their work is recorded in any way. Even a videotape made for classroom use, as a personal memento or as an archival school record violates the authors' separate right to reproduce their work. In many cases, the authors have already granted such rights exclusively to film or television companies, in which case you would also be infringing upon the rights granted by the authors to a third party."

    In another section discussing changing a musical in any way, they state:

    "It's important to remember that under Federal copyright law, not only can the director or producer who decided to change the work be held liable, but the entire production staff, cast and crew -- even the owner of the building, can be held liable, whether or not they knew they were part of a willful violation of copyright law"

    Now, I have done a number of community theater productions. Almost all were videotaped at some point. All (100.00%) were changed in some way. These changes usually involve cutting some of the musical numbers (e.g. taking out a repeat, adding a repeat, removing a difficult dance sequence...).

    It would make sense that one could make photographs for the promotion of the particular production. I.e. for programs, lobby photos, newspaper stories, etc.. However, I don't see those rights spelled out.

    Matt
     
  7. MattCarey

    MattCarey Member

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    By the way, if you want a sanity check--go to google images. Type in the name of the show you are doing. Watch the number of images that appear from community or school theaters. I would be shocked if any of them obtained special rights to photograph.

    Matt
     
  8. nc5p

    nc5p Member

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    I've most always seen video/movie filming and audio recording prohibited in the scripts they buy. I haven't seen anything prohibiting still photos, but then these companies never cease to find new things to crack down on. Even when they charge a fee per person attending and publicity photos from rehersals would boost attendance. We get mailings from the local playhouse and they often show photos. Of course around here most people are legally illiterate and the rest don't care.

    Doug
     
  9. firecracker

    firecracker Member

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    Matt, thank you for the reply. That's exactly what I've read, seen, and felt and how I've undertood the protection of the aunthors' rights etc.

    However my concern is that I'm planning to do an exhibit of my work possibly in a gallery which consists of both still photos and video/film work, and this video/film I made partly has the recording of a famous play from a community theatrical production.

    Again it's like a behind-the-scene type of video documentary, very much home-video edited on a computer, so its theme is strickly on the cast and the staff, but there are scenes that are captured during the reharsals and the shows. If I had to edit those scenes out, there would be very hard to think this work is complete.

    Meanwhile as much as I want it to be shown somewhere, I'm thinking of the short video/film circuit as well, and that's where I may face real issues.

    It's a dilemma because in reality like you said people do the recordings and exhibiting their works from the productions of famous plays, and that seems to be a common practice. But when I as a photographer/videographer want to present my work that involves that, my moral and ethics just kick in.

    So, should I write a letter directly to the author to ask for his permisson in case he would care about my little video/film work?

    Yes, I need a good sanity check but perhaps from the fellow APUGers! :sad:
     
  10. firecracker

    firecracker Member

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    Doug, thank you for your comment. I'm just guessing still photos are perhaps okay, but today when you say photography, it's more than the stills because digital video cameras are so handy and usable.

    But the kind of video-taping that people would do is of course not for pirating the someone else's copyrighted material(s). But they just want their records of the things they've done that are intangible.

    However, legally speaking I'm not sure because it's the court that decides on each case according to the U.S. copyright office, and the cases brought to the court are mostly big-budget commercial products. But still that doesn't mean it's okay in a small and personal scale. So I wanted to hear more opinions about this here.
     
  11. 127

    127 Member

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    They'd have a hard job PROVING that still photo's were taken during the play, rather than during a staged photoshoot of the actors on stage, in costume... I'd say you're on pretty safe ground with stills. If you're REALLY worried, get the actors to move around the stage as they would, but NOT speak any of the lines, and photograph that!

    Videoing the play would be an obvious no-no. However if you're interested in shooting the PRODUCTION of the play, then short extracts could probably fall under fair use. Shooting from the wings, and keeping the sections of the play to a few seconds, while cutting it with other material would give you stronger argument here.

    Ian
     
  12. firecracker

    firecracker Member

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    Ian, thank you for your comment. Maybe less than a minute out of 20 minutes of a edited video/film is okay? I know it depends on the content, but just generally speaking about the length and the ratio. The worst comes worst, I'll kill the audio for those cuts that are no more than a few.

    Right, it's the production of the play as you pointed it out that I'm trying to show in public as a short documentary piece. And as far as I know, I'm getting more confident that it's safe and arguable at this point after getting a lot of good advice from you fellow APUGers.

    Thank you. :smile:
     
  13. MattCarey

    MattCarey Member

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    If you decide to check into the rights to do this, check with someone on the cast/crew for the "book" or with the music director for the score. That will tell you who handles the rights. The show is probably handled by one of 2 groups. MTI (Music Theater International) is one, I forget the other one.

    Matt.
     
  14. firecracker

    firecracker Member

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    Matt, thanks for the info. I'll check it out.