Thursday, January 31, 2013

Wants to Use Poems in Play

Dear Rich: I have two questions the answers to which I need as soon as possible. I want to use a few unpublished poems written to me by a former acquaintance who happens also to be a published poet and who in the past read his poetry on a professional performance circuit in Europe. The play is a 10-minute one-act to be used as one of 10 others in a single admission-payment-required performance at a local community theater of 250 seats and written/acted by amateur playwrights and actors. The poet is a citizen of another country, he and I have no mutual acquaintances locally, we have no communications between us, and the odds that he could be made aware of the use are infinitesimally small. My ex-husband is a legal scholar in the field of intellectual property, however, so I'm respectful of such rights for the most part.  What, if any, permissions need I obtain from the poet? Also, I would like to use some brief portions of recordings by Leonard Cohen as part of the one-act, same circumstances. What permissions need I obtain? We know you are in a hurry for an answer and wish that you felt comfortable asking your ex-husband this question, but in any case, we feel fairly certain that legal scholars would agree that both your uses are infringements, both might be excused as fair uses, and that obtaining permission would eliminate any potential liability. On the other hand, if the chances of the copyright owner learning about your use are, as you say, "infinitesimally small," there's little reason to seek permission, now. If the play receives wider attention, you can always seek it later.
If you're a "dot-your-i's" kind of person ... The permissions required are fairly straightforward and include permission to "perform" and "reproduce" the poems and songs. In the case of Leonard Cohen, you'd need permission from the owner of the song (probably a music publisher) but you wouldn't need permission from the owner of the sound recording copyright (the record company). We have permission forms you can adopt for these uses in our permissions book.

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