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Tuesday, December 8, 1998 Published at 17:44 GMT


School bans videos of Christmas play

The school paid a licence fee to perrform the play

An infants school has banned parents from filming its nativity play because of copyright restrictions.

The ban is common in the commercial theatre but has astonished parents looking forward to seeing their youngsters in the traditional Christmas production at Walton Infants School in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire.

The problem is that the school is using a published version called We Were the First, by American children's musical writer Virginia Kolk Pedulla, which relates the birth of Jesus through the eyes of animals. It incorporates songs "for angels, camels, rabbits, sheep, geese, cattle and doves" to quote the publicity - and they are subject to copyright.

The school paid a licence fee to the Music Sales group to use the play but it then emerged in conversation that film rights would require an extra licence fee - per camera. The school felt unable either to afford those or to handle the bureaucracy involved in collecting royalties.

One of the upset parents is Sandra Marsh, whose twins Gwendoline and William are featuring as a donkey and a shepherd.

'Not for profit'

"I think this is ridiculous," she said. "The children are very disappointed. They would have liked to send a video to their grandmother in South Wales who can't get there to watch it.

"It's not as if we would be running off loads of copies trying to make a profit out of it. It's just a video for our family to keep for the memories."

The school is referring media inquiries to its local education authority, Peterborough City Council, whose spokeswoman Jennie Kendall said the copyright issue was tending to overshadow another factor - that taking pictures, video or still, tended to put off the children.

"The school has found, and I'm sure you will find this with any teacher or headteacher, that having parents taking along cameras is really disruptive to the children performing."

In the past, eager would-be Spielbergs in the audience have blocked aisles and caused a commotion. Amateur dramatic societies everywhere will be familiar with the problem.

"The school is quite happy for them to take photos after the production but not during it," Ms Kendall added.

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