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Dramatic Works

The U.S. Copyright Law is designed to encourage the development of arts and sciences by protecting the creative work of the composers, authors, poets, dramatists, choreographers and others in the society.  The law deals first with the exclusive rights belonging generally to the author of a work.  In case the author of the work has cut a deal with the publisher, the law protects the publisher’s right of copyright. 

Dramatic works include dance and mime and therefore cover operas, ballets and screenplays as well as plays.  However as in the case of literary work, for a copyright to subsist, a dramatic work must also be recorded. 

Types of published or unpublished dramatic works that may be submitted for registration include choreography, pantomimes, plays, treatments, and scripts prepared for cinema, radio, and television.  These works may be with or without music.

Generally, dramatic works such as plays and radio or television scripts are works intended to be performed.  Dramatic works usually include spoken text, plot, and directions for action.  It however needs to be emphasized that certain matters of a dramatic work are not subject to copyright.  These include:

  • The title of a program or series of programs.
  • The general idea or concept for a program.  Copyright will protect the literary or dramatic expression of an author’s idea but not the idea itself.
  • Registration for a particular script applies only to the copyrightable material in that script.  “Blanket” registration for future scripts or for a series as a whole is not available.  However, an unpublished collection of material may be registered with one application.

For the purpose of copyright of a dramatic work, a copy of the manuscript, printed copy, film or video recording, or a phonorecord may be treated as a script.  The registration of the work is normally effective on the day all the material is received in the Copyright Office in acceptable form.

Copyright in a dramatic work can be claimed for choreographic show of the work, the script or the scenario in case of a cinematograph film, but does not include the film itself.  Dramatic work also includes the script or lines for a performer as well as choreographic notation.  In short, any work that is intended to be performed would be covered as a dramatic work.

The author of a dramatic work can apply for copyright protection.  The law protects the author of a dramatic work by preventing others from:

  1. Reproducing the copyrighted work in copies or recordings
  2. Preparing derivative works (e.g., arrangements) based upon the copyrighted work
  3. Distributing copies or recordings of the copyrighted work to the public (mostly by sale, but also by rental or other methods)
  4. Performing the work publicly
  5. Performing the copyrighted work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission

The author of a dramatic work generally has copyright in the work and in such cases, permission will be needed from the copyright owners before a dramatic work may be copied, communicated or performed.  There are only very limited circumstances under which a dramatic work may be copied, communicated or performed without permission from the copyright owners.

Inside Dramatic Works