Music in hallways

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  • Our Student Council of a high school would like to implement music mornings, where students would be able to hear a 2minute clip of music before the first bell in the morning. We'd give credit to the performer over the morning announcements, too.

    Is this permitted? If it is NOT permitted, what is the process for getting it permitted?
  • Briguy,

    While giving credit to the performer is certainly a step in the right direction, unfortunately it doesn't in-and-of-itself make the use fair. Besides, recorded music usually has at least two sets of copyright owners -- one for the underlying musical work/composition, and one for the performance/sound recording, which is usually owned by the record label that produced the recording. So by mentioning the performer you may not even be acknowledging either copyright owner!

    In Complete Copyright (see the link off the CAN home page), Carrie Russell addresses the question of playing recorded music over a school intercom system (p. 58). She explains that the face-to-face educational exemption from Sec. 110 of the copyright law doesn't apply to this kind of non-classroom, non-instructional public performance. Consequently, you have fall back on Sec. 107 and do a fair use analysis. This is how I'd proceed (and this is just my take on the situation, of course):

    Purpose - Nonprofit, but for entertainment and not for teaching. The performance is not limited to a particular class, but broadcast to everyone within range of the intercom system. At best, I'd say this factor is neutral, but I'd lean more toward saying it counts against you.

    Nature - Highly creative work, so this counts against you.

    Amount - A 2-min. clip can be a substantial portion of a 3- or 4-min. pop song. Also, the portion of the song the Student Council will most likely want to play could probably be considered the heart of the work (a familiar recurring chorus or melodic "hook"). Unless they're playing 2-min. excerpts from longer musical works, like a symphony, and unless the excerpts can't be considered the heart of that long work, assume this factor also counts against you.

    Market Effect - Performing rights societies like ASCAP or BMI provide a mechanism for licensing the rights to perform non-dramatic musical works publicly. A lot of retail establishments that play music for their customers have an annual blanket license with ASCAP or BMI that allows them to make such public performances. Since the first three factors are most likely not in your favor and a licensing mechanism is reasonably available, I'd say this factor counts against you as well.

    So, to address your second question, I think you'd need to contact ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC. Bear in mind that if your school takes out a blanket license with any one of these performing rights societies you'll only have permission to perform those musical works that are in its repertory. Also, the blanket licenses are limited to non-dramatic musical works, so no songs from musicals, operas or operettas, etc. would be allowed.

    Finally, I'm not well versed in the latest intercom technologies, but if your system can be described as facilitating "digital audio transmissions" you have another issue to consider. Public performance of sound recordings (as distinguished from musical works) by means of a digital audio transmission is a relatively recent addition to the exclusive rights of copyright owners. So if you have a digital intercom system (do such things exist?), you'll not only have to get a blanket license to cover public performance of the musical work, you'll also have to get permission from the copyright owners of the sound recordings--i.e., the individual record companies. I don't know if there is a one-stop clearinghouse for such permissions similar to the performing rights societies, but I don't think so. This alone could unfortunately make your Student Council's project unworkable.

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