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Rights Grab at The Royal Opera House | reviews, news & interviews

Rights Grab at The Royal Opera House

Rights Grab at The Royal Opera House

A shocking new copyright clause looks set to hit artists

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For a creator of any kind, keeping control over what happens to their original work is essential. Their creativity is their livelihood, and their reputation is built on it. They protect it fiercely from other people copying it, altering it, selling it - anything in fact which devalues the work and damages the creators’ earning capacity from it.

So it has come as a shock to the entire theatrical design community to find that the Royal Opera House appears to have drawn up a new contract for any new commission which will attack this core principle, which is the basis of English and European copyright law. The ROH is demanding that its entire stable of creative talent – directors, set and costume designers, lighting and special effects designers, even composers, choreographers and librettists - sign over to the Royal Opera House all their copyright in their work there - in perpetuity.

ROH_logoIt’s a worrying development for the future of creative work in the UK, which should exercise everyone who wants to see the best of talents at work in opera, ballet and theatre. For this article I have canvassed opinion widely among creative artists, managers, publishers, lawyers – and I will identify no one so as not to jeopardise their position vis-à-vis any future dealings with the Royal Opera House (ROH). Only this past week, the ROH showed its sledgehammer approach to people it thinks step out of line when it attempted to censure an arts blogger for using ROH publicity stills to illustrate ROH productions.

From correspondence that I have seen from the ROH’s Legal and Business Affairs Department, it appears that these “all-rights” contracts for work done for the ROH’s Education Department and for ROH2 are already in place and non-negotiable. I am told that the same conditions are also being required for work to be done in the main house. And this correspondence contains a clear statement from a writer in the Legal and Business Affairs Department that the ROH’s policy is to acquire copyright in all commissions in future.

What effect might this have? If you look at the 2010/11 Royal Ballet season, most of the work programmed was created by choreographers who emerged from within the Royal Ballet – Frederick Ashton, John Cranko, Kenneth MacMillan, Christopher Wheeldon and so on, who are all now considerable names with productions of their work in companies around the world. If they had handed over their copyrights to the ROH when they made their work originally, they would have no benefit from the longevity of their work; they would have no say even on whether other companies could be allowed to perform the work. The ROH would have the decisive word on whether - or if at all - a work created inside it should ever be seen again. Or, at the other extreme, it could override the creators’ unwillingness for a particular theatre or performers to restage that work, or to be performed in another bowdlerised form.

Certainly Tony Hall, ROH Chief Executive, wants the ROH to have its massive popular success: viz the PR push announcing the forthcoming production of Bonnie Greer’s “opera” inspired by her night with the BNP on BBC TV’s Question Time, the Twitter opera, and the February premiere of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s ROH commission Anna Nicole – her rise and fall from Playboy model to geriatric billionaire’s wife (with scandals, sex, lawsuits) to her early death.

Redesigning, merchandising, incomplete stagings, digital versions: all examples where the original creators will lose power to ensure their work is seen in the context they intended

Turnage’s librettist is Richard Thomas, author and composer of Jerry Springer, the Opera which achieved more column inches of publicity than any new work from the conventional opera scene. A show which started in workshop at the Battersea Arts Centre, was acclaimed at the Edinburgh Fringe, went on the National Theatre for a successful run, a DVD, transfer to the West End, touring, and productions elsewhere in the world. Under the new ROH rights contracts, the progress of such a edgy production would be left entirely in the hands of the monolithic opera house, and it would capture the future benefits of any emerging talents from the start.

It is frustrating for the Opera House that perhaps the most critical element of new operas they commission - the score - will fall outside their rights contracts, since composers in general have already assigned their rights to their publishers. In Turnage’s case, this is the mighty Boosey & Hawkes, who as part of the deal make the scores, hire out the instrumental parts, promote their composers’ work worldwide, and ensure they have an income from performance of the music.

However the net cast by the contract over the remainder is wide. The redesigning of an original Royal Ballet creation for performance in a different company; the use of an incomplete production on stage without key elements of the original; the merchandising of iconic designs as tea-cups, dolls or fancy dress; the staging of an exhibition of costumes; the licence to make a cartoon or digital version of a stage production; even a decision by the creators that the ROH should no longer be entrusted with the staging of a production - these are all examples where the original creators would lose any power to ensure their work was seen in the context and standards that they approved of.

If Ashton, MacMillan, Wheeldon and so on had handed over their copyright originally, they would have no benefit from the longevity of their ballets

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Our only hope is that the Royal Opera, given articles like yours and the possible response to them, will think again. You mention blogger Intermezzo, whose use of production photographs on her blog met with a legal challenge. She reproduced the correspondence; over a hundred messages expressed their outrage; the Royal Opera backed down gracefully. Result: other bloggers like myself now have a clear statement that, where we were vetoed from using those images before, we are now free to do so. My own experience of this fortress mentality was unique: no other arts organisation behaved in that way. Moreover, asking for permission led to a possible loophole: would I send my piece over? I did, but I never had any response. So maybe it's not too late before all this is carved in stone.

This article makes no mention of moral rights, which cannot be sold or assigned to another, and which, in particular, give creatives/performers the right to be identified as the creators/performers of the work (or to waive that right), and the right to object to derogatory treatment or distortion of the work that will damage that a creative’s name and reputation. Much of what is at stake would seem to be the economic implications of assigning copyright to the ROH, but some of the objections here are raised in relation to reputation and these would be covered by moral rights, to which the ROH has no access. Some basic info on moral rights here.

Apologies, attempt to provide a link in previous post didn't work. "Here"… http://www.ipo.gov.uk/types/copy/c-otherprotect/c-moralrights.htm

Another genius decision from the ROH powers-that-be, right up there with the appointment of Ross Stretton as Royal Ballet director. This will have the straightforward effect of sending creatives who won't be bullied to other, less grasping houses (or as Natalie suggests, the ROH cutting secret privileged deals with them). But what of talents like Liam Scarlett who are tied to the organisation? Will they have to turn all moral tights over their work to the suits and the merchandisers? Asphodel Meadows hoodie, anyone?

I am a history buff but apparently this part of the history eluded me: "Equally it was accepted throughout the ballet world that the Balanchine Foundation should have the right to pull the licence for Apollo from the Royal Ballet some years ago when a cast was put forward which they argued would not show the ballet to advantage." Would you care to reveal whom that cast was?

Conde nast (magazine pulishing company) has been doing this for years to all creatives that work for them. Most annoying thing is I suspect they won't increase wages to bring in line with the royalties lost to the individual. Clever way of making and saving money.

Bancrupt the ROH now - somthing better is bound to spring forth.

I fear Andy's may be the standard response to this. As usual, the trouble comes from the administration. There IS nothing better than the Royal Opera in full flight, and THAT costs money. Artistic standards have never been higher than under Pappano, who gives as strong a lead to the Opera as Monica Mason does to the ballet. It was ever thus: as ENO imploded from one management crisis to another, they were still putting on fantastic shows. Not as often as now that they've found their anchor againr, but still...And the salaries issued to the middle management and the lawyers compared to the artists beggar belief.

This is a little like Foust's selling his soul to the devil accept that there isn' t anything to be gained by this accept perhaps to keep ones job! Wake up ROH asking people to sell sll rights to there work this ia a crime against individuals. Almost a commandment Thou shalt not steal , but clearly thou is very happy to more than covet! God gives us talent to share with and be appreciated by the world not to be ripped off and abused by it even without a customers awareness this is a crime to the individual. If I am even suspiscious of someone potentialy stealing my writng I get very upset but this is emotional blackmail! If the people behind this force people to do this I hope someone has a few pennies enough to take them to court for potential misrepesentation of the truth and blackmail.

A statement from the Royal Opera House "Rights issues in the performing arts are very complex and over its history the Royal Opera House has developed a fragmented contractual response to that complexity, almost on a case by case basis. Therefore, in response both to the advent of the digital age and requests from artists and creators, the Royal Opera House is in wide consultation with the artists/creators and their managements about streamlining and updating its contractual framework. We recognise some of the comments attributed to the Royal Opera House in the article but these are paraphrased from correspondence relating to specific artists and specific projects and applied to the general, when in fact they represent a fragment of a wider discussion. It is not the case that we are proposing, anymore than we have in the past, a one size fits all response and we are certainly not presenting a fait accompli to artists."

While not an out-and-out refutation, the ROH statement does call into question Natalie Wheen's assertion that: "The ROH is demanding that its entire stable of creative talent – directors, set and costume designers, lighting and special effects designers, even composers, choreographers and librettists - sign over to the Royal Opera House all their copyright in their work there - in perpetuity." Either they are demanding this of all their artists or they aren't. Anyone prepared to say which?

an interesting debate but to answer your question Luke no its not true. As someone who has worked for the opera house recently I retained authorship of my work. If I was paid a fair rate for the effort that was required of me well no I think my fee should have been higher but that is not a popular debate in the current economic climate.

Interesting. Maybe the Royal Opera House can tell us whether the education contracts required freelances to hand over their copyright? Under which circumstances, if any, does ROH think it is right to ask a freelance to give over his or her copyright rather than license rights? At the same time, I expect the ROH are also discussing with ALD, Directors Guild and other professional associations and unions involved? Looking at http://www.roh.org.uk/about/whoswho.aspx, a few questions. 1 Is it right to assume that all positions with one asterix – members of the Finance and Audit Committee and the Director of Education – are “supported by the John Beckwith Charitable Trust” in addition to public funding? 2 How do these positions fit with the ROH2 Financial Controller ROH2/Education/Collections? 3 What do the “rights grab” education contracts concern – is it the contracts arranged because of the Director of Education or those arranged because of the ROH2/Education or both? Why is Education split in this way? Also isn’t there also a split between Head of Collections and ROH2 Collections? 4 How does the “head of legal and business affairs” fit into the management structure? Is Legal and Business Affairs a department? I can only see Planning and Business Affairs with no Director of Business Affairs. Is the head of legal and business affairs a member of staff and how is his position funded/”supported”?

This article is what the journalistic profession is supposed to be about.: exposing the outrageous before it becomes irreversible. Another delightful by-product of rampant privatisation. Thank you Miss Wheen for the Early Warning!

This is coercive practice at its most blatant and damaging. It’s an absolute disgrace that an institution which has devoured the lion’s share of the Arts Council grant for as long as the quango has been in existence should even consider that it could ride rough-shod in this manner over the creative lives of those on whom it depends for the quality and content of its productions. This strategy exactly mirrors the downward spiral in the world of media creators where coercive publishing fuelled by the seduction of opportunity has completely undermined the media composer’s ability to earn a viable living and to retain an element of artistic control. Unfavourable publishing deals have been followed by pressure for complete buyouts, relentlessly following the rapidly prevailing position in the US of ‘work for hire’. It is nothing short of bullying tactics. The ROH is treating artists as a disposable commodity. Rights need to be respected and dealt with in a professional manner. These rights belong to people who have creative talent and often unique creative gifts. There is an economic value attached to creativity and an act of government (CDPA 1988) which lays down how this value is to be protected. Creators should not be forced to give up their rights so that life is made easy for ROH administrators. The scale of the damage that would come in the wake of allowing the ROH to get away with this horrendous power plan cannot be underestimated. The ROH are displaying a supreme arrogance which has no empathy with the world of those whose work they seek to exploit. They are proposing to use their status and muscle to squeeze the creative lifeblood out of the very people on whom their success depends. It’s a form of creative asset-stripping. If ever there were a banner under which the creative community should stand together and act in concert with one voice, it is to oppose visibly and vocally all attempts by the ROH at rights-grabbing. Sarah Rodgers CHAIRMAN British Academy of Songwriters Composer and Authors (BASCA)

http://tinyurl.com/ntannualreport Intro by Nicholas Hytner "We also raise £6 million a year in sponsorships and donations and we are by no means top of the league: the Royal Opera House last year raised £19 million. " I took this from an extract on the Whatsonstage website so I don't know whether he later states that he is on the board of the Royal Opera House http://www.roh.org.uk/about/whoswho.aspx I didn't take a screen shot of the ROH who's who when I previously looked at it during my posting so maybe someone can help me who remembers better than me. Has the page changed? I don't remember so many names under Development - the head of trusts and foundations etc etc?

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