Music teachers need to know the basics of copyright law so they can apply it in their work, and set a good example for their students. Some of the most common questions and answers are listed below, followed by links to some very informative websites that can answer more specific questions.
What is copyright?
Copyright laws protect authors, artists, composers, inventors, etc. by giving them exclusive rights to their work. This prevents others from being able to take the credit and the profit from the artists’ hard work.
How do I know if something is copyrighted?
The Copyright Term Extension Act extends copyright protection to the duration of the author’s life plus seventy years. After that period is up, the work goes into the public domain, which means that it is public property and available for use by anyone. In the case of a music score, if the original is no longer covered by copyright, but you are using a more recent arrangement, it is still necessary to request permission from the arranger. Generally, if the work was published before 1923, it is in the public domain. Otherwise, you should consider any original, creative work as copyrighted unless specifically noted that it is not (for example, if it is released under Creative Commons).
What are the exemptions for academic use?
The Copyright Act gives to creators of a work exclusive rights (a) to reproduce it; (b) to create derivative works from it; (c) to sell, lease, or rent copies of the work to the public; (d) to perform the work publicly; and (e) to display the work publicly. Fortunately, there is a special exception for the educational use of copyrighted materials. This is part of the “fair use” rule, and allows others to make limited use of a copyrighted work without permission for teaching, research, scholarship, criticism, parody and news reporting. The questions arise in just how the exceptions work, and how much “limited use” is allowed.
When do I need to get permission to copy or perform a work?
There are specific guidelines on photocopying a copyrighted work for use in a classroom setting. In general, a teacher can make multiple copies (one per pupil) of something for classroom use or discussion as long as they are not too long and not too frequent. Detailed information on lengths can be found in this article on Copyright Law for Teachers.
Performances at a school concert do not require permission so long as there is no admission fee to attend. The Copyright Act permits schools to video-tape a performance for archival/educational purposes. However, if the performance is to be video recorded and distributed, sold, or shared on the internet, permission is necessary. If a publicly shared video uses recorded music (e.g., from a copyrighted CD), this also requires permission from the owner of the copyright.
How do I go about getting permission to copy or perform a work?
First, you need to know who the copyright owner is. It should be noted at the bottom of the first page of the work or on the CD liner. Then you contact the copyright owner with the details of how you want to use their work. It is important to be specific about how much of the work you will use and exactly how you want to use it. Some publishers have a form on their website to submit for permission. Individuals can be emailed directly with the information. It may take some research to locate the copyright owner.
Another situation where teachers may need to seek permission to use creative work is in presenting workshops for other teachers. If you are going to use someone’s original work, you should contact them for permission and then include the statement “used by permission” and cite the creator of the work. If you want to reproduce a printed work, then you need to contact the copyright owner before including the copy in your handout. Keep all copies of correspondence in case you need to prove that you had permission. The AOSA copyright policy that is shared with local chapters to insure that workshop materials are used properly has a step-by-step guide for requesting permission.
For other specific situations not covered here, consult the links below:
- NAfME has an extensive section on copyright. An additional link in this section takes you to a search page within the NAfME website that addresses specific types of questions.
- The Educators Guide to Copyright and Fair Use is aimed at educators in general and addresses the application of “fair use” to new technologies.
Note: The information in this article originally appeared in the Summer 2015 issue of Reverberations and was written by Jaree Hall, Reverberations Contributing Editor.