Imagine walking into a local theatre expecting to see a show titled, "Founding Fathers: A Hip-Hop Journey". The lights go dark, a young man walks onto the stage and after four notes on a piano, he raps the following:
"How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore a d a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean by providence impoverished, in squalor, grow up to be a hero and a scholar?"
And for the next two hours, you're treated to a line by line reproduction of "Hamilton". While some might not have a problem with this, many might start to wonder how something like this was pulled off or allowed to happen. That could be the first of a great many questions over a performance like this.
However, that's exactly what a college theatre group did in late 2015. Seemingly in order to avoid paying Music Theatre International (MTI) for licensing rights for Jonathan Larson's "RENT", students of the theatre group UP Manila Dramatista at the University of the Phillippines - Manila, created their own musical titled "Measure in Love".
While creating original shows or revues in lieu of paying for licensing is a common occurrence, the difference here was that "Measure in Love" was "RENT", with the students simply changing the title to avoid potential copyright infringement.
Here is a photo and the poster of that production which clearly imply a full reproduction of RENT was produced.
More pics can be seen here. Which is how we were notified about this production to begin with.
And in case there was any chance that this was mere coincidence, one of their Facebook posts confirms four different actors portraying "Roger" - the Rock 'n' Roll star of Avenue B.
A couple of things to unpack here. While I certainly appreciate the love and passion these students have for the performing arts, rules have to be followed when producing it. And changing the title in order to perform an iconic piece of musical theatre is not only misguided but disrespectful as well.
With a piece like this, UP Manila Dramatista did one or both of the following: The first is that they violated copyright by producing "RENT" without paying for licensing. The other is that by simply changing the title but still using the script/songs/logo, it could be said they plagiarized Lason's work which would also be considered a copyright violation. So either way, really bad on their part.
Also, the poster indicates they charged money for tickets to a performance of an unauthorized property, that's a big no-no as well.
What frustrates me the most is that if this group couldn't afford to pay for the rights(which likely would have cost between $1,318 - $1,783 given their length of run and ticket price), they could have simply done a tribute revue of Larson's works. But instead, they chose the extreme latter by stealing it. At some point, a faculty advisor or someone in the group needs to question actions like these. This also wouldn't fall under any type of "fair use" either.
But as we have seen over the past month, while it's rare for a theatre group to just change the title of a show in order to escape paying for rights, it's not uncommon for student or university groups to forge ahead by performing shows without paying for the right to do so. I get it, I do. Shows are expensive. But paying for these types of copyrights are necessary and a lesson needed to be learned by these groups.
When I was in school, a musical theatre group I had helped to form wanted to perform a certain number from a show. However, we were told that we had to go through the proper channels of purchasing certain permissions to obtain the sheet music for that song. So we did. Could we have cheated? Sure. But we didn't. We did our homework to make sure everything we were doing was in line with how the creators of certain works wanted them performed. There is no honor or respect to the composers, writers, creatives by simply stealing their work.
The moral of this story is that if you are part of a group that's doing this, or know of one that is doing it, stop it right now. We all love performing but there is a proper way to producing this material. Let's all try to play by the same rules.