WGGB sets out terms for writers in 'wild west' of digital theatre

Published: 20 September 2021
Reporter: David Chadderton

Writers' Guild of Great Britain

The Writers' Guild of Great Britain and the Personal Managers' Association have together set out a basis for playwrights' rights for digital theatre following the recent explosion in online delivery.

Both WGGB and PMA say that they welcome the new opportunities for theatres, playwrights and audiences from new delivery mechanisms, but they worry that “long-fought-for rights” may be put at risk.

The 15 principles protect writers’ ownership of the copyright in their own work—a right which they say has been entirely lost in film and partially in television. They insist that all rights to deliver new plays digitally should be on the basis of a limited licence, and “shall never be subject to buyouts, or ‘in perpetuity’ or ‘duration of copyright’ clauses”.

In addition, writers should retain control of their texts, fees should be paid on the company’s earnings rather than profits and writers’ terms shall be equivalent to those in current union contracts. Also, licences should never be “download to own” and managers should take all possible steps to prevent illegal downloading.

WGGB General Secretary Ellie Peers said, “playwrights in the UK enjoy some of the best rights in the world thanks to the work of their union over many decades. These new principles ensure they remain that way and will make our agreements fit for the digital age, future-proofing them for years to come and ensuring we stay one step ahead of the rapidly evolving theatrical landscape, which is enjoying exciting new opportunities but also immense challenges as a result of COVID-19.”

Playwright, former WGGB President and WGGB theatre negotiator David Edgar said, “digital delivery of stage plays provides thrilling new opportunities for theatre work to reach new audiences. But there’s a danger that current digital deals—aptly described as the ‘wild west’—are threatening writers’ ownership of their own work, and risking future productions of their work, in theatre and other media.

“WGGB agreements in the subsidised theatre provide the gold standard for playwrights, and we look forward to our digital principles becoming enshrined in those agreements, to benefit and protect all playwrights.”

WGGB now intends to discuss these principles with the management bodies with which it has agreements in the subsidised sector: UK Theatre, the Independent Theatre Council, the National Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal Court.

The full list of principles can be downloaded from the WGGB web site.