Pay the writer

The Issues With Rights

A good friend of mine posted a video on Facebook the other day of a group called String Theory Quartet. They describe themselves on their Facebook page as:

A string ensemble at Cornell University dedicated to playing your favorite nerdy TV, movie, and game themes as well as music by popular artists.

Which makes them awesome. What makes them even better is that they are AMAZING at what they do. The video that introduced them to me was their melody of music from Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along-Blog, which I consider to be one of the best musicals of the past decade. They did an amazing job rearranging the music and paying tribute to it in their own manner.

After viewing the video, YouTube suggested similar videos, many of which were “live on stage” recordings of various people doing Dr. Horrible. This disturbed me. Not because the productions were bad (that I don’t know I only briefly watched one, I turned it off before the first song, but I’ll get into that in a minute), but because the productions were, essentially, illegal. You see, the rights to Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along-Blog have not been released for general use.

From the Dr. Horrible website:

Sorry to say: At this time, no license requests are being reviewed or granted with respect to performances of Dr. Horrible. We appreciate all the enthusiasm and support, but for now we are not licensing it.

Additionally, no rights to Commentary! The Musical are available to license.

If and when this decision is reversed and we once again will license the rights to perform Dr. Horrible, we will post that
information here for you. In the meantime, thanks you for caring enough to even find your way to this page to read this. You are awesome. For realzies.

– J,J, M & Z

I would love to direct a stage show based on this musical. I was watching it just the other day with my brother and told him that I would love to cast him as Captain Hammer. But again, the rights aren’t available.

What am I getting at here? Well, the one production I started to watch said in the description that:

The show became one of the most successful in the history of the [theater name removed–ER], and earned critical praise from many of the local critics.

The YouTube video also begins with an ad and has three ad breaks in it. Meaning that the poster is generating some revenue from people watching the video. Joss and Jed Whedon, however, are not receiving any monetary compensation from this company for their work however.

Now the Whedon brothers are both very successful and a few dollars they would earn from selling the rights, they probably don’t miss. But that isn’t the point of this. The point is, as a theater producer you don’t have the right to make money off of something you don’t own. What you are, in fact doing, is stealing the creators’ work for your own profit.

I’m a playwright and it scares me to think that one day I’ll get a Google Alert message that someone is doing one of my plays and I will have no knowledge of it and get no compensation for it. I am not a multi-millionaire that may or may not notice the lack of money from this production coming into my pocket. But it doesn’t matter if I am or not, the rights are mine (and my publishers) just as the rights to Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along-Blog belong to the Whedons. And if you want to use our work and use our rights, you  need to pay. As one of my idols Harlan Ellison says in the documentary, Dreams With Sharp Teeth,

“I don’t take a piss without getting paid for it.”

Later he says:

And the problem is, there’s so god damn many writers who have no idea that they’re sposed to be paid every time they do something, they do it for nothing! Gllg, Gllug! They’re gonna look at me! I’m gonna be noticed! Hhh-hhh! Hhh-hhh!

Hey I’m guilty of this as well. I’ve said “I need to build up my name” or “think of the free publicity”. Yeah I’m still trying to collect on what was promised me from the last free show I did. You  gotta pay the writer, pay the writer, pay the writer, PAY THE WRITER! Did I say that enough times? How about once more?


Okay, end of rant, catch my breath.

And for those wondering what Joss Whedon thought of String Theory Quartet’s use of his music? Well he tweeted this:

So I’d say he’s okay with what they did.