Copyright laws - bands?

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  • We are studying copyright laws in my grad class. I saw my friend's band play Saturday night. They played hits from big bands like U2 and Rolling Stones, which got me thinking. How are local bands able to play major band's music - aren't there copyright regulations in place?

    Thanks for your help!
  • There are two different copyright issues in play here.

    First, there is a specific exception to the copyright that is held by U2, for example, in a recorded performance of their work. That exception allows "covers" by other bands without permission. So your friend's band is not infringing a copyright held by U2 in the recording of their performance of the same song.

    Second, however, is the copyright in the compositions (as opposed to a recording) of the song. That is also protected by copyright, and note that this copyright may well be held by someone different from the performer, namely the composer. There is no similar exception to this copyright in the composition to permit covers. Instead, there are collective rights societies (ASCAP, BMI, etc.) that collect permission fees and sell licenses to allow performances of those compositions for which they hold authorization. They also sell "blanket" licenses to authorize performance of alll of the songs in their catalog. For example, most higher education institutions purchase a form of blanket license so that students, faculty musicians, and invited performers can perform songs without worrying.

    I believe, and I assume others will correct me if I am wrong, that the tradition in the world of live music is for the venue in which performances take place to purchase blanket licenses so that bands who perform in those venues do not infringe the copyright in the musical compositions when they perform those compositions. If that is correct, and the venue in which you saw your friend's band has such licenses, there should not be a copyright problem with the performance.

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