Case Studies

Ilbijerri Theatre Company – copyright ownership and contract

'A Black Sheep Walks into a Baa' – Directed by Rachael Maza Long

Ilbijerri Theatre Company in Victoria is the longest running Indigenous theatre company in Australia creating innovative contemporary works by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists.

Some of Ilbijerri’s comedy shows are developed out of theatrical workshops in which the participants develop their own comic routines under the guidance of a seasoned comic. In subsequent workshops, a stage show is created using the routines and characters created in the first workshop. Many of the participants are then cast in the show which is commercially staged by Ilbijerri as part of its theatrical season.

This type of collaborative effort raises complex legal questions about copyright ownership. There are a number of ‘authors’ contributing to the final product and their respective contributions cannot always be clearly separated. The ‘joke doctor’ or workshop leader plays a critical role in every aspect and Ilbijerri also has creative input.

Ilbijerri asked Artists in the Black to help clarify these issues in a way which recognized and protected the contributions of the workshop participants but also made sure that Ilbijerri had all of the rights it needed to stage a successful production for the public.

We advised Ilbijerri on the terms of its contract with its ‘joke doctor’. In this situation, Ilbijerri was paying or ‘commissioning’ the joke doctor to run the workshops and develop the show. Usually the person who is commissioned to create a work will own the copyright unless there is an agreement to the contrary. However the joke doctor was not the sole creator and copyright owner of the resulting theatrical work because it also contained the creative contributions of the workshop participants. The contract needed to deal with this question of copyright ownership, protect the creator’s moral rights and also grant a licence to Ilbijerri for the purpose of staging the show.

Agreements were also needed with the workshop participants. Artists in the Black drafted a simple ‘workshop participation agreement’ to be signed by each participant which acknowledged the participant’s ownership of copyright in material they had created in the workshop and granted an exclusive royalty-free licence to Ilbijerri to perform the material for a certain period throughout the world. This meant that after the Ilbijerri season finished, the participants were free to adapt, use and perform that material themselves.

This is a good example of ‘best practice’ advice where Artists in the Black gives advice to an art organisation which strives to find a fair balance between the interests of the organisation and the rights of the artists with which it is dealing.

Further resources you might find useful:

  • Actress and director Rachael Maza discusses protocols for developing scripts and performance for Indigenous theatre. Please click here to view the video
  • Actress and director Rachael Maza talks about Ilbijerri theatre and the potential complexity sometimes involved in negotiating a fair contract between artists involved in the production of a performance work. Please click here to view the video