Copying songs for school music

← Return to forum

  • I teach at a non-profit private K-12 school. To prepare for the middle school musical we would like to make copies on CD of some of the songs to give to students so that they can learn their parts more quickly. The original songs are copyrighted, but we would not be using the copied CDs in the performance.
  • Hi, jpojman.

    I’m not a lawyer or judge, but I’m uncomfortable with your situation. You are thinking of reproducing and distributing copyrighted work. These are two rights of the copyright holder.

    Fair use lets others enjoy the rights of a copyright holder in *limited* circumstances. Here’s my fair use analysis of your situation:

    Purpose – Nonprofit, educational. This is in your favor.

    Nature of Work – Highly creative. This counts against you.

    Amount of Work – I presume each song would be copied in its entirety, so this counts against you. Even if you considered the entire musical as the *whole* work, you would likely be copying a substantial part of it-and certainly very critical parts of it-by copying the songs.

    Effect on Market – One could say that each copy of the music is a lost CD sale, so this counts against you as well. (This factor is often given more weight than the other factors.)

    Your idea to distribute the music to students is well intentioned. Yet the way I see it, too many of the fair use factors are not in your favor. Might the students be able to check out the CD from your school library?

    Other views? Suggestions?

  • I would not say the the fourth factor counts more than other factors as a general rule. One factor can count more than other factors, but it depends on the situation. Also, I would not necessarily count a copy as a lost CD sale.

    The fourth factor is the most time sensitive of the factors. If you did this once, and destroyed the disks afterwards, you would have a stronger argument in my opinion. The more often you do something like this, the more the factor counts against you, I believe. Additionally, you could do other things to make sure that the copies, even if limited in other ways, are not a replacement for the CD. For example, you could try to make the copies of a lesser quality than the CDs.

    Doing those things wouldn't necessarily make the use fair- that will depend on your analysis- but that's the kind of things I'd think about.
  • I too am not a lawyer and I agree with MFakouri's sentiment -- 'I'm uncomfortable with your situation'.

    Even if we assume that the production of the musical is a direct and natural extension of the classroom experience, your creation of multiple CD compilations for student use seems to be an infringing use. In a way, these CD's are functioning like musical coursepacks. Coursepacks are lower quality reproductions of original text materials needed by students for academic courses, and their production and distribution is not considered a fair use. The coursepack producer must obtain the permission from the rights holders of each and every item in the coursepack. By extrapolation, one might then assume that a music teacher is required to obtain permission to reproduce each and every work on the music CD.
  • I'd like to chime in with one thing about coursepacks. While the creation of coursepacks by a commercial entity has been determined on more than one occasion to be infringing (Princeton University v. Michigan Document Services, Basic Books Inc. v. Kinko's Graphics Corp), I am not aware of similar decisions involving the creation of coursepacks by instructors (as I believe is pointed out in Complete Copyright). The commercial nature of those coursepacks was very much a strong part of those decisions, and that aspect does make a difference in the determination of a fair use. There is some ambiguity here, particularly noting the "multiple copies for classroom use" aspect of fair use.

    If you have access to legal counsel, I'd use it. ^_^


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

← Return to forum