Dance Performance Question

← Return to forum

  • Ok, I've been having a hard time with this one.  My school has a dance program.  They give a dance performance each trimester, using canned music (not live).  The dance performances are free to attend, and are attended by the boarding school community plus a few parents and friends (but mostly just students and staff).  What are the legalities on the music being used in the background?

    Things I've already explored:

    -If we were a performing arts school, like Interlochen, we'd be selling tickets and streaming performances, and we'd be paying a lot of money.  But we're not.

    -If we were talking about performances of music by our musicians, there's a fair amount of information out there on that topic.  But we're not.

    -If this were just a classroom performance, it would be educational use, but since the whole school community is invited, it becomes unclear.

    -If we were doing a full performance (like The Nutcracker), then it would be Grand Rights, and we'd have to do something like when we pay for the school play or musical.  But I'm talking Small Rights here.

    -ASCAP doesn't answer their phone.

    So we're definitely not the only school with a dance program out there.  However, I can't find anyone to talk to at the other schools to get a clear answer based on actual law, rather than just "this is what we do, because we've always done it that way".

    Any help is appreciated, thanks!

  • What a wonderful question!  My take is that Section 110 (4) - an exception to the public performance right for live non-dramatic performances (which includes having recorded music played in the background for a live dance performance) - is your ticket  to "don't worry about it."  It reads

    (4) performance of a nondramatic literary or musical work otherwise than in a transmission to the public, without any purpose of direct or indirect commercial advantage and without payment of any fee or other compensation for the performance to any of its performers, promoters, or organizers, if—

    (A) there is no direct or indirect admission charge; or

    (B) the proceeds, after deducting the reasonable costs of producing the performance, are used exclusively for educational, religious, or charitable purposes and not for private financial gain, except where the copyright owner has served notice of objection to the performance under the following conditions:

    (i) the notice shall be in writing and signed by the copyright owner or such owner’s duly authorized agent; and

    (ii) the notice shall be served on the person responsible for the performance at least seven days before the date of the performance, and shall state the reasons for the objection; and

    (iii) the notice shall comply, in form, content, and manner of service, with requirements that the Register of Copyrights shall prescribe by regulation


    My other colleagues might wish to respond.  Certainly fair use would also apply.


    My guess is that ASCAP is not responding to you because they do not collect royalties for the kind of performance you are describing.  ASCAP, BMI, etc (from my experience) don't care all that much about K-12 public performances.  Plus even if they wanted to charge a royalty fee, it would be small pickings compared to what they can collect from private groups. 

    Also, I have heard that rights collecting staff have goals for how much money they collect as part of their job performance.  They have to meet a certain amount, so naturally they focus more on the big bang for the buck type of royalty fee.

    Good luck!



  • Thanks for the reply!  I had certainly read that section before, but I was thrown off by terminology. First, because we are not performing the music, we're performing the dance, with the music playing.  Second, beause a dance performance could be considered a dramatic performance.  Ah, the interpretation of words.  If you think neither of those interpretations causes a problem, I will happily chalk this up to "don't worry about it".


  • A dane performance is generally not a dramatic performance.  Dramatic in the copyright sense is a performed work that has a narrative.  Think theatre and opera.  There are dances that are part of musicals, but if performed solely, I don't think that would add up to a dramatic performance.


    My colleagues may ahve additional thougths.



  • The same question with me. I have seen many dance performances which were organized in that way. They shouldn't do that.

Posting to the forum is only available to users who are logged in.

← Return to forum