Licensing a play for your school is actually a fairly simple process, but it can seem intimidating when you don’t know the ropes. This guide should answer some of your questions - and it should be useful whether you’re applying for a show licensed by Samuel French, or by someone else.
If you need advice on any part of the licensing process, our team are here to help - by phone on 0207387937, on live chat (click the button at the top right of this page) or by email.
Strap in everybody - here we go.
Jump to a question
- Do I need a licence to perform a play or musical in a school?
- How do I know if a show is in copyright?
- Do I need a licence for the type of performance I'm doing?
- How do I apply for a licence?
- How much does it cost to license a show?
- Why do schools have to pay to license shows?
- How long before a production do we need to apply and pay for a licence?
- If a play is listed on your web site, does that mean I can definitely perform it?
This depends on the answers to a couple of questions...
1. Is the show you want to do protected by copyright?
2. How are you planning to perform it?
Plays are automatically covered by copyright law from the moment they’re written, which means that - for a certain period of time - if you want to perform them publicly you need to seek the author’s permission and pay them to stage their work.
Copyright law is a complex beast. The precise rules over how long a play is protected by copyright law vary from country to country. Here's a quick guide to the situation in the UK and EU.
Likely to be out of copyright
NOTE: Copyright protection is calculated from the year in which the author died, not the creation, publication or first performance dates of their individual plays.
Likely to be covered by copyright protection
This means that plays by Shakespeare, Wilde and many other pre-twentieth century plays can be performed freely without obtaining a licence, for example, but most plays from the twentieth century onwards are still protected. If you’re in any doubt about whether a play is protected by copyright, it’s always best to check with us.
The rights to perform plays that are in copyright are held by the author, and you must seek their permission and obtain a licence to perform their work. Here the plot thickens slightly because authors usually pass the responsibility of granting rights on to third parties to administer on their behalf. They may nominate their agents, their publishers or play leasing agents like Samuel French. The best way to find out who administers the rights to a play you're interested in is to look on the copyright page of the book, where this information is usually listed.
You can find the plays Samuel French licenses on our web site. If it's not listed here, feel free to contact us and we'll be happy to help you find out who does license it.
There's a common misconception that you only need a licence to perform a show if you're not charging for tickets. Actually, the deciding factor is whether your performance will be private or public. All public shows - whether or not they're charging for tickets - require a licence.
The table below is a quick guide to when you do and don't need a licence.
You DON'T need a licence if...
Your production will be private. That means it meets all of the following criteria...
You DO need a licence if...
The production will be public. That means any of the following apply...
To apply for a licence, find the show you're looking for, either through our Schools page or by searching using the search box at the top right of every page of our site.
If the show is available for licensing through Samuel French, you'll see a button like this on its detail page.
Just click on this button and you'll be prompted to register with Samuel French, and be taken step-by-step through the process of applying for a licence online.
You'll be asked to provide information on the size of the venue you'll be performing the show in, the prices you intend to charge and your production dates.
Once you've completed and paid for your application, you'll be issued with a certificate to prove you have a licence to perform the show.
Contact our licensing team if you have any questions about the licensing process.
Licensing fees vary from show to show, so it’s best to check the play’s detail page on our website. This will list the minimum fee payable per performance for this show, but as the precise fee depends on various factors including venue size and the price you're charging for tickets, the fee for your licence may be higher than this minimum fee. The precise fee will be calculated during your application process.
Contact our licensing team for more advice on how much your licensing fee will be.
Licensing fees are an essential part of many authors’ incomes, so obtaining a licence helps support their work and the future of theatre. The vast majority of the licensing fees you pay go to the author.
The licensing process also helps authors to keep track of how and where their work is being performed.
You need to apply for a licence before you begin planning or rehearsing a production. As not all shows are available to perform at all times (see below) applying early means that you can be sure you'll be able to go ahead with the production you have in mind.
You'll need to pay for your licence at least 4 weeks before your first performance date.
Sadly, it’s not quite that simple. Though we strive to make as many of the plays in our catalogue available for performance as possible, the availability of certain plays can be restricted for a number of reasons outside of our control. These might include...
- New plays aren’t released for amateur performance until any professional runs and subsequent tours are finished
- Producers of professional productions may require restrictions on amateur availability in certain areas and for certain times, to avoid amateur productions clashing with professional ones
- In certain areas, all production requests must be checked with the author and their agents. For example, major play requests are always checked in London and Edinburgh, due to the possibility of West End or Edinburgh Festival productions
- Authors can decide to restrict the availability of their plays at any time and for any reason
As not all plays are available at all times, it's important to apply for a license before you begin planning and rehearsing a show.
Our web site will give some indication of whether or not the play is currently available for licensing, making it clear if a title is not available at all, but for questions about a particular area it’s best to contact our licensing team.