Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

WGGB 'groundbreaking' agreement for digital broadcasts

Published: 7 April 2022
Reporter: David Chadderton

WGGB The Writers' Union

The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain—working with the Personal Managers’ Association, representing literary agents—has agreed a "groundbreaking" set of principles for digital broadcasts of stage plays by the Royal Court, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre.

The agreement sets down seven principles in response to the increase in live-streaming and other forms of digital delivery of stage plays post-COVID. Negotiations are continuing with UK Theatre and other theatre management bodies to try to have these principles adopted more widely throughout the sector.

Under the agreement, playwrights do not have to grant the digital rights in their play if they don’t want to and, if they do, separate negotiations will be required on upfront fees, advances and, where appropriate, royalties. Pay will have to take into account audience size, reach, the time window and distribution model of the delivery. Buy-outs of rights are prohibited, except in certain educational settings, while spin-off film and television rights will also remain with the writer. The writer will also have the right to be creatively consulted on the digital capture and production process.

WGGB General Secretary Ellie Peers said, “we welcome the new opportunities for audiences afforded by the digital delivery of stage plays, and support the resilience of the theatre sector in responding to the ravages wrought by COVID.

“However it is imperative that these developments do not lead to an erosion of the long-fought-for rights of playwrights, who in the UK enjoy unprecedented protections due to the work of WGGB in negotiating agreements with the major theatres and management bodies.

“These new principles therefore represent a major landmark in the protection of writers’ rights in the digital age. They also pay testimony to the collective power of our union and its members who, against a backdrop of COVID and a cost-of-living crisis, and in a sector which is powered by self-employed writers, have steadfastly stood together to protect their rights and those of their colleagues.”

The seven principles

  1. The commissioning or programming of a new play for performance on the live stage will not be contingent on the writer granting digital rights to the TNC theatres, National Theatre, Royal Court and Royal Shakespeare Company.
  2. Where there are digital iterations of a commissioned new play or non-commissioned new play, the licence terms of those digital iterations will be subject to separate negotiations for appropriate remuneration including upfront payments or advances and—where applicable—royalties.
  3. The term, territories and length of the grant of digital rights in the live stage version of the play will be subject to mutual agreement between the writer and the theatre. The remuneration for the writer will reflect the specific terms of that agreement and will take into account the audience size, territorial reach, time window and distribution model for delivery.
  4. The TNC theatres’ acquisition of digital rights in the live stage version of a play will not include the film and television rights in the play which will remain vested in the writer.
  5. No digital rights in a commissioned play shall be subject to a buy-out by the TNC theatres. Such rights will be granted under limited licence only, with the exception of licences of digital content for educational purposes which may require a longer licence term and will be negotiated in good faith.
  6. The writer will be creatively consulted during the preparation for and—if reasonably available for consultation—editing of the digital capture of the commissioned play, as well as—where possible—during the capture / digital broadcast process itself. In any edit of the production for digital distribution, the play and production will not be materially altered without the writer’s consent.
  7. The TNC theatres will take all commercially reasonable steps to prevent the illegal downloading and sharing of filmed productions. Where piracy / illegal downloading and distribution is suspected, the TNC theatres will take action as soon as possible.