If you are not charging admission, can you change a well known play? 4 Answers as of October 28, 2013

My class is putting on a play for parents and we are not charging admission. We are advertising and want to give the play a modern twist and change some of the dialogue. Is this okay?

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Roe Law Firm
Roe Law Firm | Theodore M. Roe
In terms of potential civil penalties, unless you obtained a written release where she released all copyright interest in the photos, you could be liable for copyright infringement. Willful copyright infringement carries with it up to $150,000 in damages per violation plus attorney fees and costs. Additionally, you may be violating her right to privacy unless these were contemplated to be made public in which case you could be liable for actual damages, etc.
Answer Applies to: Oregon
Replied: 10/28/2013
Sebby Law Office
Sebby Law Office | Jayne Sebby
Whether you charge admission or not, if you use the specific work, you must have permission from the copyright holder. Just changing part of a play is not enough to avoid copyright violation. However, only the specific expression is protected. The underlying theme of any play, book, story, etc., can not be copyrighted. For example, compare "Romeo and Juliet" with "West Side Story." Both deal with star-crossed lovers, but they have very different settings, situations, language, and characters.
Answer Applies to: Nebraska
Replied: 10/24/2013
Bay Oak Law
Bay Oak Law | Andrew K Jacobson
The question is a bit vague as to whether the play is covered by copyright. Shakespeare's works, for example, are not covered by copyright, and can be freely changed under the law (some viewers and English literature buffs may object, but that is not a legal question). If a work is covered by copyright, you might be able to make changes, but and this is VERY IMPORTANT it depends on the nature of the changes. There is a legal concept called "fair use" that MIGHT allow the changes, but it is very fact-dependent. You need to discuss this with a lawyer skilled in copyright.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 10/24/2013
Lawyer for Indie Media
Lawyer for Indie Media | Sue Basko
Hello, If the play is in the public domain, you do not need to worry about creating a derivative work. For example, you can change Shakespeare as you like it. As to creating a derivative work of a play that is not in the public domain and using it in educational usage, that may or may not be Fair Use. If it is part of the classroom learning experience, the use of the original is probably fair use. Whether creating a derivative work is is another question. If your concerns are great, you should probably consult with a lawyer or just go ahead and ask the publisher for permission to create the derivative work. In the future, if you want to be able to do as you please without any concerns, use a play that is in the public domain. Every year, more plays go into the public domain, so there are many from which to choose.
Answer Applies to: Illinois
Replied: 10/24/2013
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