Legal Considerations For Live Streaming Performances


By: Joe Patti

As live-streaming performances moves from being quickly assembled, impromptu performances organizations were using to keep connected with audiences during Covid-19 quarantine toward being a consistent mode of content delivery for individuals and organizations, there are some important legal issues to consider.

Please note, these legal considerations are the same regardless of your motivations. Even if you have live streamed content before without issue, there is likely to be more attention paid and less tolerance exhibited by rights holders and unions as performance streaming becomes more prevalent.

The Alliance of Performing Arts Conferences recently presented a guide on The Legal Landscape of Live Streaming. While it is applicable in most jurisdictions worldwide, the guide was written from the perspective of U.S. law. The guide makes the usual statements about the information provided being no substitute for specific legal advice from a lawyer.

Probably the biggest consideration for venues that have a performance license under ASCAP/BMI/SESAC is that it doesn’t cover live streaming. Even if you get a license to live stream a performance, it only covers that specific instance. You need to get a separate license to make the recording of that event available for later public viewing. Additionally you need permission from the artist(s) to live stream and rebroadcast.

While the guide doesn’t address streaming of text only based content like a play, the same general situation applies. Your license to stage the play doesn’t include streaming or rebroadcast of live streamed content unless you have specifically arranged for it with the rights holders and any unions that might represent any of the content creators.

There are a number of other issues that exist with live streaming with which one never has to contend during a performance solely contained within a physical space. For instance, what isn’t profane or defamatory within the walls of your venue might be in another state or country. Any use of third party trademarks, logos and branding which is visible over the stream needs to be licensed and shouldn’t be used in a manner which casts the owner of those images or slogans in a bad light.

The Live Streaming guide provides a comparison of different streaming options, listing their cost, ease of use, promotional capabilities, capacity for monetization and other considerations. The guide also reviews different methods of monetization from tipping, donations, subscriptions, merchandise sales, affiliate links, ads, value-added services, etc.

While it isn’t exhaustive, the guide provides a good place to start to increase your awareness of the various factors associated with live streaming if you haven’t previously delivered content in this manner.

N.B. An additional re-opening guide by the Performing Arts Center Consortium was distributed right after this post was published. It contains color coded charts and additional information people may find helpful.

Joe Patti
Joe Patti
In addition to writing for ArtHacker, I have been writing the blog, Butts in the Seats ( since 2004. I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. ( I am currently the Theater Manager for the Rialto Theater in Loveland, CO. Across my career I have worked as the Executive Director at The Grand Opera House in Macon, GA, at University of Hawaii-Leeward Community College, University of Central Florida, Asolo Theater, Utah Shakespearean Festival, Appel Farm Arts and Music Center and numerous other places both defunct and funky.
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