The copyright performance of a play was a first public performance in the United Kingdom, staged purely for the purpose of securing the author's copyright over the text. There was a fear that, if a play's text was published, or a rival production staged, before its official preview or premiere, then the author's rights would be lost; to forestall these abuses, the practice arose of staging a copyright performance, which was notionally public, but in practice staged hastily before an invited audience with no publicity and no regard for the artistic quality of the acting or production. One legal authority wrote that such a performance, "though probably not necessary to fulfill any legal requirement, permits registration of first performance at Stationers' Hall and gives useful public notice to possible infringers."  The practice was common in the decades after the Berne Convention of 1886; the United States was not a signatory, and plays first staged there were uncopyrightable in the United Kingdom.
George Bernard Shaw's The Philanderer had a copyright performance hastily arranged in 1898 just before its publication in Plays Pleasant and Unpleasant. The play's more controversial scenes were cut from the performance to secure the approval required from the Lord Chamberlain, but restored in the printed version. Many less commercially viable plays were never performed other than in a single copyright performance. novelists sometimes arranged copyright performances of dramatisations of their works; a single 1897 performance of Dracula enabled the widow of Bram Stoker to sue F. W. Murnau in 1922 when his unlicensed cinematic adaptation Nosferatu was shown in Britain.
- Miller, Derek (2012). "Performative Performances: A History and Theory of the "Copyright Performance"". Theatre Journal. 64 (2): 161–177. ISSN 1086-332X. doi:10.1353/tj.2012.0054.
- Colles, William Morris; Hardy, Harold (1906). Playright and copyright in all countries, showing how to protect a play or a book throughout the world. London, New York: Macmillan. pp. 12–14,120.
- Williams, Carolyn (2013-08-13). Gilbert and Sullivan: Gender, Genre, Parody. Columbia University Press. pp. 229–230. ISBN 9780231519663. Retrieved 12 November 2013.
- Dudgeon, Piers (2011-06-08). Captivated: J. M. Barrie, Daphne Du Maurier and the Dark Side of Neverland. Random House. p. 154. ISBN 9781446476574. Retrieved 12 November 2013.
- Bowker, Richard Rogers (1912). "XI: Dramatic and Musical Copyright, Including Playright". Copyright, its history and its law. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin. pp. 183–184.
- Peters, Julie Stone (2003). Theatre of the Book, 1480–1880: Print, Text, and Performance in Europe. Oxford University Press. p. 362. ISBN 9780199262168. Retrieved 12 November 2013.
- Smith, Andrew; Hughes, William (2012). The Victorian Gothic: An Edinburgh Companion. Edinburgh University Press. p. 68. ISBN 9780748642496. Retrieved 12 November 2013.
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