Logistics of writing an opera

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hautbois baryton
Posts: 33
Joined: 06 Jan 2018, 17:06

Logistics of writing an opera

Post by hautbois baryton »

Hi folks,

I'm exploring the process of writing an opera and I wanted to reach out to the collective experience of the board for a few questions. I'm not asking for specific legal advice, but rather would like to become aware of other composer's experiences.

Are there legal concerns with choosing a title, or characters?
I'm presuming if there is a famous person named Bob Smith, you title the work "Bob Smith Is An Idiot," and there is a character named Bob Smith, you would probably incur some legal difficulties (except maybe in the case of a parody?)... but are there other concerns to be aware of?

Likewise, are there issues with choosing a subject?
Are there any concerns when choosing to adapt a real world event, or the work of another artist (whether an author, composer, etc.). I would presume that plays/poems under copyright would require permission from the copyright holder, but are there additional issues?

Thanks so much for any feedback!
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David Ward
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Re: Logistics of writing an opera

Post by David Ward »

I have absolutely no legal qualifications of any kind, but here are some thoughts.

Officially, a title can't be copyrighted.

If you are adapting an existing play, novel etc that is till in copyright, you should get permission from the copyright holder who may require a fee or even give an outright refusal of permission. This may get a bit more complicated if it is still in copyright in some countries, but not in the one in which you are active.

Within reason you are free to give any names you choose to your characters, although if you are depicting actual events involving people still living, you would need to take care. I'm not sure what country you are in, but the UK libel laws have a wide reach and have been used by people from outside the UK (if they have enough money) to catch out people who are in countries where these laws are more relaxed. For this reason I'd advise being a little wary if you are indeed basing a story on real people still living anywhere in the world.

Nevertheless, legal problems should be easy to avoid unless you are infringing an existing copyright without permission.

Perhaps I should add to that. The first opera I wrote used an existing play which at the time (1968) was still in copyright. This copyright was administered by the Society of Authors. I applied to that organisation for permission (rather late, I'd already written the piece) and they gave me a letter granting me permission as long as they were to receive an agreed share of any royalties (for opera chiefly in the form of Grand Rights rather than PRS etc).

My subsequent operatic efforts have all had specially written libretti with an agreement that the librettist should receive one third of Grand Rights after the publisher‘s share has been taken. In my case the subjects chosen have not been covered by copyright, nor have they been overtly based on contemporary events (*covertly is another matter), so I have no direct experience of any problems that might have arisen if they had been.

*A nineteenth century riot might be staged to look very much like a twenty first century one. An arrogant or incompetent (or often both) utter B from history or myth may be represented on stage in such a way as to remind the audience of a living politician or other powerful person &c &c.
Last edited by David Ward on 31 May 2021, 20:40, edited 1 time in total.
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hautbois baryton
Posts: 33
Joined: 06 Jan 2018, 17:06

Re: Logistics of writing an opera

Post by hautbois baryton »

David, thanks so much for your insight, I truly appreciate it!
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benwiggy
Posts: 567
Joined: 11 Apr 2016, 19:42

Re: Logistics of writing an opera

Post by benwiggy »

From what I can gather, it doesn't seem that Jerry Springer was asked for permission to use his name in Jerry Springer, the Opera.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerry_Spr ... s_response

As ever, for legal advice, consult a lawyer, not an internet forum. :lol:

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