There is a clear link between the realm of art and the law of copyright. Put simply, copyright allows regulation of uses of works of art in the fields of literature, drama, music and other artistic fields. As ‘copyright owners’ artists have the right to control certain uses of their works, mostly commercial ones, and can demand payment for these uses. But there is conflict inherent in this process due to the fact that artists of all stripes tend to seek the greatest freedom to create. Copyright, on the other hand, can operate to block artists from engaging in certain creative acts, for instance where these acts would infringe another author’s copyright work. Artists tend to accept the fact that copyright is necessary for them to make money while often expressing frustration with the way the copyright licensing terms demanded by others can ultimately restrict their own creativity. The uncomfortable position artists often find themselves in is being caught between defending copyright and decrying it. Further to this, since copyright belongs to authors upon creation and fixation of an original work, there is the awkward question of ‘who is the author?’.
One sphere where these issues are particularly apparent is the theatre world. At present I'm conducting empirical research with actors, playwrights, theatre directors and other people involved in the drama field in the UK concerning the way that copyright law regulates the authorship of plays. I have already conducted 15 interviews for the ongoing project. So far I have received a diverse range of responses which I am currently shaping into an academic piece. Regarding the overall research context - the broad hypothesis I am interested in exploring is ‘What effect, if any, does copyright law have on creativity in the field of drama?’.
In a collaborative medium such as theatre, authorship questions and disputes inevitably arise. With respect to the law, copyright lawyers tend to merely ask ‘who wrote the play?’. In theory, unless there is a situation of clear joint-authorship, copyright will ascribe economic and moral rights to the play (aside from other issues such as set design and performance rights) to the ‘writer’ only i.e. the ‘author’. In my research I’m particularly interested in investigating the authorship challenges which may arise given the frequent necessity to undertake re-writes of new plays during ‘workshops’ as well as the process of collaboration between the director/actors/playwright once the play is in production. Furthermore, a certain amount of the creativity in theatre requires the freedom to interpret the author's work in a way which the author may not have anticipated. Copyright gives the author the right to object to this in certain circumstances, something which has in the past led to creative tensions between playwrights, such as Samuel Beckett, and theatre companies. By analysing the empirical data, I intend to shed light on how artists within the theatre world deal with these tricky issues.