- At least in the United States, whenever you produce an original creative work in tangible form, you automatically have a copyright on that work. This applies to written sheet music and sound recordings. Source: “What Musicians Should Know About Copyright” article and video on US Copyright Office website, accessed 11/25/23. (See link here.)
- When you wish to produce a recording of someone else’s musical work, provided it is not in the public domain (more on this in a minute), you need a license, which is permission from the publisher, or composer, to do that. You are supposed to get permission even if you aren’t making a profit from it. For anything involving video, you need a sync license, and for audio-only, you need a mechanical license. Initial source: My friend Kerstin Tenney, who obtained all necessary permissions for her recent album release.
- If a work is in the public domain, it means it is no longer protected by copyright. Copyright typically expires 70 years after the composer’s death. So all that Mozart and Debussy and Brahms you are performing is just fine without permission. This is your safest bet in regards to performing classical music; stick with the old stuff!
- Fair Use: If someone was to take you to court over a copyright infringement, you might have a chance under this clause. From Section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Act:
In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include—
- the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
- the nature of the copyrighted work;
- the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
- the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
By the way, for the second point, the nature of the copyrighted work, “using a more creative or imaginative work (such as a novel, movie, or song) is less likely to support a claim of a fair use than using a factual work (such as a technical article or news item).”
- From a guest lecturer, who was an expert on copyright, when I attended graduate school: you can generally photocopy and distribute one page [and one page only] from a method book, without breaking copyright, if the material is to be used exclusively for educational purposes.
- My recent experience with copyright: I decided to apply for a sync license to be able to indefinitely keep my video of my September 2023 recital, which I titled “Embarking!,” on my YouTube channel. Fifteen minutes of my 90-minute program were protected under copyright. After reaching out to various agencies and choosing one that I was told had more conservative pricing, when I found out that I would only be able to get a license for three years at a time, and that it would cost $700 to license those two pieces each time I reapplied, my husband and I decided it wasn’t worth the cost! My desire to have my video available was based on the guess that thirty or so people would stumble across my video in that length of time, without being charged anything to watch, so $700+ out-of-pocket seemed like an especially unreasonable expense. But I believe in following the law. Consequently, instead of paying for the publisher permission to use the copyrighted work, I took down my publicly-accessible videos for on-demand streaming on YouTube. For use of my Highlights Video on the video section of my teaching website, I edited out the three minutes containing copyrighted material, featuring only snippets from the works I performed that were in the public domain. The video is under the Spotlights section, accessed from the main menu of this site. I’ve also included that ten-minute video here: