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Commissioning a New Work: Navigating the Rights
By Katie Baron and Norman Ryan
June 3, 2014
The world premiere is the light at the end of a very long and winding tunnel
A world-premiere performance can be exciting—often it forms the centerpiece of a glamorous fundraiser or has been commissioned by the presenter for a world-famous soloist (think any major American orchestra for Yo-yo Ma.)
But long before the conductor strides onstage and mounts the podium, a complex series of rights (there’s that “bundle” again) needs to be addressed. The following illustrates the series of transactions that can take place when an opera company commissions a new work from a composer and librettist.
Commissioning a completely new work
When a composer and a librettist decide to write an opera together, either before they are commissioned by an opera company or afterwards, it is a good idea for the two of them to enter into a collaboration agreement concerning how they will handle the exploitation of the opera and the income generated from it. They may also decide to assign their rights in the opera to a music publisher for purposes of licensing future performances and other uses of the opera. If the composer and librettist have entered into a collaboration agreement at the outset, the procedure for choosing a publisher may be pre-determined in their agreement.
Commissioning a work based on an existing work
Katie Baron is an attorney at the firm of Alter & Kendrick, LLP. Katie’s practice is focused in the area of copyright law with an emphasis on the music industry. She handles transactional and licensing matters for a number of prominent musical estates, songwriters, music publishers, and performing artists. Katie has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin and law degree from Fordham University.
Norman Ryan is vice president at Schott Music Corporation & European American Music in New York. He was previously with the New York City Opera, The Public Theater, Lincoln Center, and G. Schirmer, Inc. He has worked with many of the world’s leading composers and collaborated on projects with the Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera, Royal Opera House, and American Opera Projects, among many others.
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