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A quick note on rights

When to obtain rights


You have to obtain rights for a play unless:

  • You or your team have written it yourselves (it is original writing) OR

  • The author died more than 70 years ago (it is in the public domain).


IMPORTANT (regarding adaptations and translations): Just because the source material for a story is in the public domain, does not mean all adaptations are. For example, ‘Oedipus Rex’ was written thousands of years ago , but a translation written 20 years ago would not be, so you would have to pay for rights to perform the translation. Similarly, if you are adapting a story, the story must be in the public domain. So you could adapt ‘Dracula’, a victorian novel, but not ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, which was written in the 60s. If you are unsure, google the title and author.



How to obtain rights

Note: We do not recommend that Cuppers teams apply for rights as it is expensive and time consuming, and requires a lot of notice.


For straight plays:

  • The first port of call is always Concord Theatricals. The licenses for many famous plays are organised by Concord  (formerly Samuel French) 

  • Nick Hern Books often holds the rights to commonly produced student drama, and you can usually find a link to rights application on their online listing for the play

  • If neither Nick Hern nor Concord have the rights, you have to find the agent of the writer and contact them directly. Writers are often with Casarotto Ramsay or Curtis Brown, but google the playwright to find out. There’s usually a deadline on paying for rights, around 4 weeks before performance dates, so there’s lots of time to bid for a venue and secure funding.

  • Really obscure plays will often agree to negotiations on pricing, so always give this a try and emphasise that you're on a student budget! If they won't shift, though, be prepared to pay up to £100 per performance (rights are expensive!)


For Musicals:


  • You normally obtain rights through MTI though sometimes they'll be held by Concord, so worth looking there too

  • As a rule of thumb, if a musical is on in the west end, you almost certainly won't be able to secure a performance agreement. There is a reason Oxford has never seen a production of Wicked or Les Miserables! This goes for plays too, so be careful!

Normally, fees for rights to musicals are non-negotiable, and as musicals tend to be in larger venues, will often charge a commission on ticket sales (usually 10%-20% depending on the show), which is subject to VAT

Do not try and circumvent rights. They are completely essential. Performing a show without the required license or performance agreement could land you, and us, in a lot of trouble, but this is something we will help check with you at the funding interview stage, and should be checked by your venue, so don't worry too much if you forget! There's always time for a license.

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