About the GuildFAQ
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What’s the difference between the Associate and Member levels?
In 2010, the Guild’s Council voted to revise the categories of membership to more accurately reflect the landscape of American theatre today. There are now two levels of membership, Member and Associate.
To qualify for the new Member level, a writer must have either had work professionally produced or published by an established publisher. Professional production is no longer defined by the size of the theatre but simply by whether tickets were sold to the public.
All playwrights, composers, lyricists and librettists interested in Guild membership, but who do not meet one of the above criteria, may join at the Associate level.
There is no longer a Student level of membership, however, those students enrolled in a full-time degree program in theatre are eligible for a 50% discount on either the Associate or the Member level memberships, depending on their experience.
All the benefits of Guild membership are enjoyed by all members regardless of membership level, save two which are reserved exclusively for those at the Member level. They are:
1. The right to vote for and run to serve on the Guild’s governing Council. Elections are held each January. For more information on Council elections, please contact Amy VonVett, Executive Assistant to Business Affairs.
2. A fully-editable online Member Profile on the Guild’s website where one can post a bio, picture, a complete list of works including synopses, scripts and mp3s for download. For more information on the Member Profiles, consult the online video tutorial.
2. How many invoices do I receive before I'm dropped?
Your membership expiration date is the last day of the month in which you joined the Guild. Invoices are sent out the first week of each month. Your first invoice is mailed the month before your due date, and you will continue to receive a monthly invoice until the bill is paid or until your membership is dropped. Failure to pay dues will result in your membership being dropped at which point all benefits of membership cease until you rejoin the Guild. Dropped members may only rejoin by phoning the Guild offices and providing payment information. A dropped member may not rejoin online as member log-in is switched off automatically once a membership has been dropped from the system.
3. I paid my dues, why haven't I received my membership card?
Membership cards are printed and mailed via U.S. Priority mail twice each month. If you joined the Guild or renewed, we ask that you allow at least two weeks before calling the Guild offices to inquire about your card. Please allow 7-10 business days for full processing of new membership applications.
4. If my membership has expired for a period of time, do I have to pay back dues in order to rejoin?
No – only the current membership dues. If you have an outstanding balance from a partial payment, however, that amount will be added to your invoice and you will need to pay the full amount to renew your membership.
5. Do I have to complete another application in order to renew my membership?
As long as you remain a member in good standing you need not submit any additional materials to renew. However, those members whose memberships have been dropped must call the Guild offices to rejoin the Guild. No additional materials are required to rejoin, however we ask that you call the Guild’s offices to ensure that all your contact information is up-to-date.
6. How do I find out about health insurance?
More information coming soon.
7. Can the staff of the Guild help me get tickets to Broadway shows?
Complimentary and Discount Tickets to a variety of New York productions are sometimes made available to members of the Guild via email newsletters. Information regarding ongoing discounts to regional theatres outside the New York area can be found in the Members Only area of the Guild’s site.
8. How do I receive Emergency Funds from the Dramatists Guild Fund?
The Dramatists Guild Fund provides financial aid to professional dramatists experiencing personal hardships such as health-related problems or the temporary loss of income. The Fund is also interested in helping older dramatic writers who are ill, uninsured, or whose royalties have dried up. The Fund does not offer scholarships or subsidize writing project. For more information on the Dramatists Guild Fund, click here.
9. As a member of the Dramatists Guild, am I also a member of the Authors Guild?
No. When you apply for membership in The Dramatists Guild, you are also applying for membership in The Authors League. The Authors Guild is the professional association for novelists, short story writers, and poets. For an application, call 212-563-5904.
10. What is the Authors League?
The Authors League serves as the umbrella organization for both The Dramatists Guild of America and the Authors Guild, allowing a collective voice in issues of censorship, copyright and lobbying in Washington, D.C. As a member of the Dramatists Guild of America, you are also a member of the Authors League.
11. Does the Guild provide script templates?
These templates are provided as guides to help you in making your scripts conform to industry standards. They are meant to guide, not to rule. If the demands of your play or musical require something slightly different in terms of how the words are placed on the page, that’s your determination to make. Ultimately, every choice you make in terms of punctuation, font size and layout on the page should answer to one common goal: ease of understanding. Make choices that help the reader to understand your theatrical intent.
Traditional Play Format
Modern Play Format
1. What is the difference between "business advice" and "legal advice"?
The Guild offers business advice to its members, not legal advice.
Business advice includes, among other things, reviewing members’ unsigned contracts, advising them on relevant industry standards, explaining the inner workings of theatrical business relationships, assisting in the use of the Guild’s model contracts, and advising on how to register a copyright or submit to a festival. Legal advice involves, among other things, reviewing signed contracts, explaining the rights and obligations of the parties under an agreement, as well as speaking to or negotiating with others on behalf of an individual.
While Guild lawyers can explain general legal concepts and principles, they are not permitted to provide a legal opinion as to a member’s particular rights and obligations under the law.
2. How do I get business advice from the Guild?
Every Guild member has access to the Business Affairs department. Members can reach the department through a toll-free phone hotline (800-289-9366), by fax (212-244-0420), email (email@example.com), United States Post Office, overnight courier or by scheduling an in-person appointment. One of the Guild attorneys will contact you in a timely fashion to answer your question.
3. How do I find an attorney to get legal advice?
The Guild’s Resource Directory—updated annually—contains a list of attorneys who specialize in entertainment law. In addition, Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts (www.vlany.org) connects artists to legal professionals and educates them about their legal rights and responsibilities. Many websites, such as www.findlaw.com and www.martindale.com, provide free, searchable databases of legal professionals. Additionally, as a Guild member you have access to our list of legal aid avenues in our “10 City Legal Aid Guide.”
1. What does “public domain” mean? What is in the public domain?
A work of authorship is in the “public domain” if it is no longer under copyright protection or if it failed to meet the requirements for copyright protection. Works in the public domain may be used freely without the permission of the former copyright owner.
2. How do I register my copyright?
The government’s website (www.copyright.gov) provides comprehensive information and instructions for copyright registration. Your registration is effective as of the day that the Copyright Office receives your completed application, application fee, and deposit of the work, whether it be by email or mail. The Guild advises its members to become acquainted with submitting works to the Copyright Office electronically.
3. When should I register my copyright?
Generally, there are three points in the life of a work at which copyright registration and revised registration makes the most sense:
(a) When you have finished a work and are prepared to start submitting it to theaters, festivals, agents, directors, producers or other theater professionals;
(b) When after substantial changes have been incorporated into your work; and
(c) When a work is published. (The publisher will usually register the published version of the work in your name.)
4. Can I copyright revisions to my work?
When substantial changes (i.e., more than mere edits or minor alternations) have been incorporated into your work, the revised version of your work must be registered to protect any new elements added. This generally occurs after you have presented a full production.
5. What does registering my copyright accomplish?
Registering the copyright in your work with the U.S. Copyright Office is the one and only way you can avail yourself of the various rights and remedies provided by U.S. Copyright Law and defend your work against infringement.
6. Can’t I just mail a copy of my script to myself or register it with the Writers Guild or the Dramatists Guild?
Despite what you may have heard, the practice of establishing a “poor man’s copyright” (where you mail the manuscript to yourself or register it with an organization like the Writer’s Guild) is of little legal significance. That is why the Dramatists Guild does not provide such a service.
The only way to protect your copyright is to register it with the Copyright Office at the Library of Congress, in Washington D.C.
7. Can I use the life story of a real person in my play?
When writing about real people, there are issues of copyright, libel, rights of privacy and rights of publicity to consider.
There are several permissions that a writer may need (or choose) to obtain to safeguard against such legal matters. Interview release forms, for example, can be signed by the interviewee to ensure the author free use of materials gathered during an interview session. Furthermore, some writers acquire “life story” rights (sometimes even when not legally required), in order to remove any threat of a lawsuit that could encumber a play. Writers may additionally wish to obtain permission from an individual or estate to use a range of copyrightable material (i.e. letters and diaries) within a work or to otherwise have access to materials and private information. Involving the subject in this way has the added benefit of brining an air of legitimacy to a work. However, if the real person is controversial or particularly litigious, requesting such permission may unnecessarily put you on the subject’s radar.
8. If I translate someone’s play or a translator translates my play, who owns the copyright?
Whether you are translating or being translated it is always best to try to own your copyright. It is not uncommon, however, for an author of an original work to commission a translation on a “work for hire” basis.
If you are translating a public domain work, copyright your work immediately because there may be competing translations.
9. Can I write a play based on someone else’s copyrighted work? Can I write a musical or use music owned by another songwriter?
Writers can adapt or incorporate someone else’s work into their own if one of the following conditions are met: (1) if the existing work is in the public domain, (2) if the use constitutes a “fair use,” or (3) if the writer has a license to do so. Without qualifying for one of these three permissive scenarios, the use of another author’s work may constitute copyright infringement.
10. What is "work for hire"? Should I do work for hire, or otherwise sell or assign my copyright?
“Work for hire” can exist only under two conditions. First, it can exist in an employer-employee relationship where the work is part of the author’s employment. Indicia that you are an employee includes use of the employer’s work space and equipment, daily supervision by the employer, a regular salary from the employer, and health and pension benefits.
Second, a “work for hire” can be formed if (a) there is a written agreement that explicitly states the product will be a work for hire and (b) the product fits into one of nine cateogries. While these nine categories include authorship within the motion picture and television industries, authorship within theatre is NOT included.
Typically, a “work for hire” agreement to a dramatist includes the sentence, “If for any reason the Author’s work should be considered not a work for hire, Author hereby assigns the copyright in perpetuity to the [producer/theatre/etc.]. In other words, this agreement is a copyright assignment. Copyright assignments are far from standard practice in the theatre industry.
11. Do directors have a copyright in their version of my stage directions? Is there a “director’s copyright”?
No. Statues and courts have not recognized a copyright in stage direction and the Department of Justice has entered at least one civil law suit on behalf of the Copyright Office specifically to state that there is no such thing as a “director’s copyright.” The product of a director’s work is conceptual, not tangible, and copyright does not protect ideas, only the specific expression of an idea fixed in a tangible medium.
Any changes a director may suggest in an author’s stage directions are subject to the author’s approval and, under any Guild contract, all approved changes become the author’s sole property. Directors do not become co-authors of a play simply by offering dramaturgical advice to a playwright or offering ideas that the author is free to accept or reject. Such contributions are conceptual and considered part of directors’ customary services in the course of their employment. Directors do not become co-authors unless they make a copyrightable contribution to a work and the author intends the director to be co-author.
1. Which Guild contract do I need?
The Guild’s model agreements contain the minimum standard terms promulgated for authors’ contracts. Always modify the forms as your situation requires and consult with an attorney to be certain that the contracts are legally binding documents.
2. How do I order contracts and articles from the Guild?
Guild members can order any of the Guild’s model contracts in PDF format by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org with “Contract Request” in the Subject line. Members can purchase hard copies of the Guild’s model contracts by sending a request in the mail along with cash or check for the total amount. If you are an author’s representative (agent, manager, attorney, or other similar professional), you must be a Business Subscriber to order Guild materials.
If you do not know which specific model will serve as the best starting point for your transaction, please contact the Business Affairs Department.
3. Does the Guild review contracts? What contract will you review? How should I send them to you?
Guild members are required to use the Guild’s Approved Production Contract for all First Class productions (i.e., Broadway and equivalent productions throughout the U.S., Canada and London’s West End). These agreements are subject to the Guild’s certification. Members are required to submit their LORT agreements for mainstage premiere productions to the Guild for the Guild’s review. In addition, the Business Affairs Department will review a member’s unsigned contracts for other theater-related matters, including production agreements, collaboration agreements, publishing agreements, agency agreements and underlying rights agreements.
The agreements can be submitted by mail, email or fax or reviewed by appointment.
4. What contracts will you NOT review?
The Guild cannot review any contracts that you have already signed, since any advice offered in that context could be interpreted as legal advice. The Guild will also only review contracts that involve a Guild member, and only in a member’s capacity as a playwright, librettist, lyricist or composer. The following agreements will NOT be reviewed: agreements from non-members, member agreements not related to theaters, theater-related agreements from members working in a non-authorial capacity.
5. Why do I need a collaboration agreement?
In the absence of an agreement between collaborators, copyright law may find that collaborators are joint authors of a work. Joint authors have complete freedom to use, change and license the work without the consent, or even knowledge, of their co-authors. This has two potential negative outcomes. First, for a live stage work, such non-exclusivity of licensing can hamper the author’s ability to engage a producer or theatre company. Second, it entangles co-authors for the duration of the copyright, even in the case where a working relationship has fallen apart. The Guild’s Collaboration Agreement is meant to keep collaborators from being defined as joint authors and thereby allow authors to define their legal relationship for themselves.
6. What is a "submission release" form? Should I sign one?
A submission release is an agreement in which an author agrees that he will not be entitled to compensation merely because the party to whom he has submitted the work produces a work that is similar to their submission. Submission releases often require the author to make other guarantees which protect the interests of the agency/producer.
Submission release forms are less common in the theater industry than in film and television, but they exist and are used primarily by corporate producing entities with regard to unsolicited materials. An author should not be asked to sign a submission release when a producer has solicited their submission.
Royalties - Author’s compensation
1. What are royalties?
Royalties are the licensing fees that a producer pays to an author for use of the author’s intellectual property. Typically, royalties are calculated as a percentage of the Gross Weekly Box Office Receipts (GWBOR) of a production. The GWBOR is calculated by the standard definition incorporated into the Guild’s Approved Production Contract (APC), which specifies what deductions may be taken from GWBOR before calculating the royalties. Sometimes, royalties are paid based on Weekly Net Operating Profits (WNOP) instead of gross receipts. This type of royalty structure is called a Profit Pool. Under certain conditions, an author will receive a flat fee or a “per performance” fee.
2. What are commissions?
An author receives a commission fee only when the producer or theater has commissioned the author to create a new work. Generally, commissions are paid by resident theaters or other non-profit institutions to allow them to either establish a relationship with a particular writer or to produce a play on a particular subject or theme. The commission is a fee for the writer’s services. It is NOT a purchase of the play, nor is it an advance, option or royalty for licensing the work.
There is no standard commission fee. The amount is generally negotiable and dictated by the reputation and experience of the author and the standard practices and financial means of the commissioning theater or producer.
3. What are Options? Advances?
Options are agreements between an author and producer whereby for a fee, the author grants the producer a right (often exclusive) to present a play or musical. Such agreements should be specific, ideally indicating a specified time, territory, type and level. The initial option period is usually from 6 months to 1 year when this initial option period expires, the author, for an additional fee, will grant the producer an additional option period(s).
Advances are monies paid out to an author before the producer “capitalizes” (raises the financing for) the production. They are often used in connection with option agreements to ensure good faith from the producer. Advances are non-returnable. Advances are required for First Class productions under the Guild’s Approved Production Contract (“APC”) but they are optional for off-Broadway or other types of productions.
Options and Advances are recoupable by the producer out of a portion of the author’s royalties.
Royalties - Producer’s benefits
1. What are subsidiary rights? Who should share in my subsidiary rights revenues, and at what rates?
Subsidiary rights include the myriad of ways an author can license a work after its initial stage production. Often times, these rights are withheld from the stage producer. They include, among other things, publishing rights, stock & amateur licensing rights, movie and television adaptations and foreign stage productions. Authors retain the copyright in their work but because a producer’s successful production may add value to an author’s copyright, a producer customarily “vests” in a specified share of an author’s subsidiary rights revenues. This grant is limited in time and nature as specified by the contract.
A producer often shares in the author’s subsidiary rights revenues from Equity Showcases and Equity Workshops. In the latter, even the cast may be granted a share. Shares are also often granted in premiering LORT theaters (perhaps more than one) and commercial producers (usually a large share).
Directors, dramaturges, actors and other non-authorial collaborators may also ask for a share of an author’s subsidiary rights revenues as well, but granting such an interest is entirely within the discretion of the author, based on the circumstances of a particular production, and is not at all customary nor recommended.
Further Reading: Understanding Subsidiary Rights; Directors At the Gates; Underlying Rights II: Movie Rights; Life of a Song; Guide to Publishing/Licensing Contracts; The Boards Abroad; The Money Flow; A Statutory Rebuff to the Idea of a “Director’s Copyright”; Subsidiary Rights Round Table: Part I; and Theater Economics.
2. What are “future options”?
An author may grant a “future option” to the producer to either extend the run of the play beyond the contracted number of performances, to subsequently move the play to another venue, or to produce other productions of the play. Additional fees are negotiated for this type of option.
1. What does an agent do?
Agents use their contacts to get your plays read and produced. They negotiate contracts, explain these contracts to you, and monitor those contracts to guarantee timely payment. Agents can open doors to producers and venues, and can give you credibility with producers. They represent you in business situations so that you can devote more time and energy to the creative process. An agent or manager can give business advice, help direct your career, and be a valuable ally and support system as you grow professionally.
2. Are agents licensed?
Literary agents are not employment agents and are therefore not licensed under most states’ laws. Most (though not at all) reputable agents are members of the Association of Authors’ Representatives (www.aar-online.org) which has its own guidelines for appropriate standards.
3. How do I get an agent?
The Guild’s Resource Directory—updated annually—contains a list of agents who specialize in theatre. Additionally, the Association of Authors’ Representatives (www.aar-online.org) has an online database with agents’ information and what kind of authors they represent.
If you are having a production, you should consider inviting agents to attend. If you’re working with a director or designers or actors who like your work, you may try to get her or him to recommend you to their own representatives. You can also be referred to an agent by a theater’s literary manager, artistic director, or by a producer or other theater professional.
You should understand however, that it is difficult for new or emerging writers to obtain representation. There are also opportunities to submit your work to theaters, festivals and contests that do not require an agent or other representation.
4. Will the Guild help me get an agent?
The Guild cannot help you to get an agent. We can, however, help guide you through the steps you need to take. We can also advise you about the history and reputation of various agents, managers, attorneys, theaters and producers as reported to us by our membership.
5. Is a publisher an agent, too?
Yes. Play publishers are in the business of licensing the stock & amateur production rights of the plays they publish. They retain a commission and pay the author the rest of the licensing fee. They do not own the author’s copyright nor do they have rights reserved for the author.