Copyright and Authorship on Stage

19 Pages Posted: 30 Jun 2021

See all articles by Luke McDonagh

Luke McDonagh

LSE Law; London School of Economics and Political Science

Date Written: June 23, 2021


This is the opening chapter of the book Performing Copyright: Law, Theatre and Authorship (Oxford: Hart, 2021). Based on empirical research, the book explores issues of performativity and authorship in the theatre world from the perspective of copyright law. I examine several inter-connected questions: who is the author and first owner of a dramatic work? Who gets the credit and the licensing rights? Given the nature of theatre as a medium reliant on the re-use of prior existing works, tropes, themes and plots, what happens if an allegation of copyright infringement is made against a playwright? Furthermore, who possesses moral rights over the work? This introductory chapter gives an overview of my approach to these questions. I first outline the history of the dramatic work in print and performance, before exploring the notion of authorship as it relates to the actual processes of creating contemporary plays, referring to interview data and recent case law. I consider how copyright infringement applies in the context of theatre, noting that cases of alleged theatrical infringement reach the courts rarely in comparison with music cases. I assess the reasons for this with respect to empirical data. I explore the way moral rights of attribution and integrity work in the context of theatre, referring to cases involving playwrights such as Samuel Beckett and Bruce Norris. This chapter concludes with a comment on how law should respond to the challenges provided by the theatrical context, and how theatre could respond to law.

Suggested Citation

McDonagh, Luke, Copyright and Authorship on Stage (June 23, 2021). LSE Legal Studies Working Paper No. 07/2021, Available at SSRN: or

Luke McDonagh (Contact Author)

LSE Law ( email )

United Kingdom

London School of Economics and Political Science ( email )

United Kingdom

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