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by PAUL TAYLOR of Samuel French Limited

Revived copyright law became effective in January 1996. This is of special interest to DRAMA GROUPS

Throughout much of the last year, rumours were rife concerning the European directive on copyright harmonisation and its likely impact on writers, performers and publishers in this country. But it is only now that the British Government has approved the new regulations, effective from the 1st Jan. 1996 that a clearer picture of the situation has emerged.

The object of this article is to address the way in which the new copyright provisions will affect the Amateur Theatre Movement.

Any literary or dramatic work created from now on will enjoy a copyright protection period of 70 years after the death of the author, rather than 50 years as was previously the case. Moreover, works currently in copyright but in which the copyright was due to expire at some point in the future will now be protected for an additional 20 years. This latter provision is known as "extended copyright".

In practice neither of these changes in the law is likely to be relevant to amateur companies to any great degree, although societies hoping to perform the plays of, say, George Bernard Shaw free of charge after the year 2000, will now have to wait until 2020 before they can do so!

In practical terms the most important provision of the new regulations as far as both the amateur and professional theatre is concerned is that which deals with "revived copyright which is one in which the copyright had expired at some point over the past 20 years, but which will now be brought back into copyright until 7 0 years have elapsed from the death of the author.

For example, J.M. Barrie died in 1937 and his plays therefore entered the public domain on 31st December 1987, fifty years after his death. They have therefore been out of copyright for the past 8 years. However, under the concept of revived copyright they will become protected once again, this time until the year 2007, 70 years after Barrie's death.

Revived copyright operates in a somewhat different manner from conventional copyright in that one has a "licence of right" to exploit a revived copyright work. This means that no-one can be prevented from performing such a play provided that notice is given to the owner of the revived copyright or his agents, and a royalty fee is paid. Thus exclusivity cannot be granted to any amateur or professional company and rights cannot be restricted or withdrawn. Similarly, adaptations and alterations can be made without needing to seek permission, again provided the copyright owner is advised and royalties agreed.

It is worth mentioning that anything done in respect of a work while it was out of copyright is exempt from the effects of the revived copyright: one of the most celebrated instances of this is "The Wind In The Willows".

Until Kenneth Grahame's book entered the public domain at the end of 1982 the only dramatisation authorised for stage performance was "Toad of Toad Hall" adapted from Grahame's book by A.A. Milne with music by H. Fraser Simpson. This play was, and still is, a favourite with amateur companies and schools and was, at one time, a regular Christmas show in the West End. After 1982, however, it became permissible for anyone to adapt the original book and versions by Willis Hall, John Morley, Alan Bennett and others have appeared since that time.

Kenneth Grahame's work now enjoys revived copyright (until 2002), but the owners of these new dramatisations do not have to make any royalty payments to Grahame's Estate (The Bodleian Library in Oxford) for the continued publication and performance of the plays as their adaptations were made while the book was in the public domain.

However, if an amateur group wish to make their own play version of the book after the 1st January 1996, whilst being at liberty to do so, they must give notice to the Bodleian Library and pay a royalty fee.

If any company is thinking of presenting a production of a play and is unsure as to whether or not it is in copyright, the best course of action is to approach the agent specified in the script or, failing that, the publisher. In the case of minor plays which have been out of print and out of copyright for a good number of years it may prove impossible to track down the owner of the revived copyright.

In those circumstances it is worth bearing in mind that it is not a breach of copyright to perform the play if the name and address of the copyright owner cannot "by reasonable inquiry" be established. Of course, one would have to provide evidence that one had tried to contact the copyright owner before performing.!

It is advisable to cheek if in any doubt as a number of popular plays, such as "The Barretts of Wimpole Street" and "The Monkey's Paw" are once again protected.

The following is a selective list of playwrights whose work is now covered by revived copyright - J.M. Barrie, John Drinkwater, John Galsworthy, Lady Gregory, Jerome K Jerome, Henry Arthur Jones, D.H. Lawrence, Arthur Wing Pinero, Alfred Sutro, Edgar Wallace and W.B. Yeats.