Community Theater Group Sued Over Performance Licensing Fees

Global theatrical licensor Musical Theatre International has filed a federal lawsuit alleging an Ashburn-based community theater company performed at least 16 Broadway musicals without paying required license fees.

According to MTI, Theaterpalooza Community Theater Productions Inc., starting in 2015, declined to pay fee and materials rental charge, which typically range from $1,500 to $2,500—depending on the number of performances, the number of seats per performance, and the amount of paid admission fees charged. As performances continued, the company claims it sent additional violation notices in 2016 and, most recently, in May, without response.

MTI claimed Theaterpalooza had promoted plans for summer performances of more MTI-licensed shows. “Although fully aware that MTI believes these unlicensed and unauthorized productions make it a willful copyright infringer, Theaterpalooza has persisted in advertising future unauthorized uses for summer 2018, promoting camps culminating in productions of Annie, Mamma Mia! and Hairspray,” the company stated.

Theaterpalooza owner Teri Walker said she was surprised by the MTI announcement, which was publicized nationally in entertainment industry media outlets. Walker said they’ve been in talks with the company and recently worked out a payment plan to cover back fees. “We’ve settled this,” Walker said.

She also said that only six—not 16—productions were in question. Others were original or public domain works, or did not move to the performance stage.

Walker said MTI’s publicity was a “sucker punch” to the community theater group.

“We really are a good company. We do good things for kids,” Walker said. “I don’t want the good stuff we do for children to get overlooked because of this.”

MTI works with theatrical composers, lyricists and book writers to provide official scripts and musical materials to more than 70,000 theatrical organizations in the United States and more than 60 other countries.

“MTI occasionally uncovers individuals and groups who violate the bond between creators and audience by taking original, copyrighted works and performing them without appropriate compensation to the authors. Theaterpalooza is one such organization,” the company stated.

Walker noted that original works by the Theaterpalooza staff also are licensed for performances in other communities so she recognizes the importance of the fees. While the company may be behind in its payments, it isn’t using the work without compensation, Walker said.

As for Theaterpalooza’s next performance, it will be a Halloween-themed play planned for October. “It’s an original,” Walker said.

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