Journal of Intellectual Property Law


Due to the pandemic, the entire theatre industry shut down nearly overnight in March of 2020. Thousands of talented professionals were out of work, costing individuals and the economy billions of dollars in the first month alone. Within a month of this industry wide halt, eighty theatres around the country began providing content to audiences around the country via streaming services. Streaming theatre fully took hold when Hamilton on Disney+ became the most widely watched piece of entertainment nationwide in the month of July. Within a few short months, an industry based completely around large gatherings shifted to a digital format. This shift was designed to save an industry and those who create it. However, this shift also exposed the intellectual property of theatrical designers, the artists who create the scenery, costumes, lighting, etc. for stage plays, to a potential increase in distribution and digital exposure with little to no changes in intellectual property protections. On top of this, theatrical designs do not fall neatly into the requirements of the Copyright Act of 1976. This note argues that the theatre industry must embrace the judicial presumption out of Illinois and New York that stage design elements are copyrightable in order to extend the rights of authorship, ownership, and registration of copyright with stage designers. Without this bargaining power, stage designers may not be considered the authors or owners of their designs under copyright law when increased distribution due to streaming inevitably leads to cases of professional plagiarism within the industry.