Video Is Not A Human Right

I don’t really like videos of stage shows; they rarely do justice to the production.  A small part of this is dislike of my own performances.  I once gave a presentation which was recorded.  I seemed to have developed a pattern of movement rather like a simple box step – you know the one: right foot crosses over the left; left foot back; right foot back; step forward with the left and then repeat the whole sequence.  It was a bit like that; back across and forward, back across and forward.  I had my hands in my pockets and was leaning back slightly so that my legs seemed to reach my destination ahead of me.  I skimmed through the video on fast-forward and the movement seemed to be that of Charlie Chaplin’s tramp.

A live performance brings out the remarkable abilities of the human eye to focus on detail.  You can focus on the character speaking, or the various reactions to the speech, or anything else.  With a video, those decisions are made for you by the cameraman or video director.  That’s absolutely fine in a movie; the whole thing is planned to show you particular perspectives and there is no opportunity to see anything else, but in a stage play, there’s a whole show going on, not just the director’s cut.

Thus from my personal perspective, I prefer to see movies made as movies, rather than recordings of stage shows.  The two things can, of course, be connected.  Vagabond Alley Productions in Seattle staged Damian Trasler’s Love in the Time of Zombies and had fun making a trailer video as part of their promotional activity…

Other people go further and turn stage shows into movies.  The art-forms are different.  You can do things in a film that you couldn’t do on the stage; the most obvious being location shots, compared to the constraints of a stage set.  And, of course, you don’t have to build a set – provided that you can find a location to do the job.  Sometimes stage plays are used as short projects to develop the video-maker’s art.  Hideto Shimizu recently took this approach with Dog Day, a video production of The Doctor, a sketch by Gary Diamond and Ray Lawrence, taken off the stage and filmed in a realistic location.

You could never justify such a realistic set for a two-minute stage sketch…

Nevertheless, videos of stage shows can be useful – to the actors (my presentation style has improved), to the people back-stage who never got to see the performance, and to the people who couldn’t get to the show.  An example of the last case is the ex-pat group in Rabat who video their performances to reassure their friends and families back home that they are making an important contribution to international cultural exchange by staging comedy sketch shows.  There is, however, another issue with making videos of stage shows: just because you have a camera, it doesn’t mean that you have the right to make a video of anything you choose.

A video of a stage play (like a video of any other artistic work) is, in copyright terms, a derivative.  It could not exist without the work of the original artist – in this case, the playwright.  Under copyright law, the original artist has the right to determine what is done with his work.  In order to make a video of a stage play, you need the permission of the playwright.  (The playwright has the right to refuse permission, the right to set conditions and the right to charge fees.)  Taking the two examples above, Hideto Shimizu needed permission to make his film because it is a derivative of The Doctor.  Vagabond Alley didn’t need permission for their trailer because whilst it hints at the content of Love in the Time of Zombies, it doesn’t itself make significant use of Damian Trasler’s work.

For videos of live performances, Lazy Bee Scripts tries to make this process easy: our stage play performance rights automatically include the right to make one (and only one) video of a show.  However, if you want to make additional videos or additional copies of the original, then we will charge you a per copy licence fee.  Even then, there are limitations.  Licence to make a video is not the same as licence to display that video on the Internet, on cable television or at a public screening.  To do any of those things, you need specific permission, and you need to start by asking for it.

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