Music and Copyright

‘Tis that time of year again. Time when many schools are holding assemblies and putting together retrospectives of the year. We know the power of music, and many schools want to include music in their retrospective projects.


Unfortunately, many people don’t stop to think about their actions. It is very easy to download a piece of audio from the Internet, or a CD that someone brings in, or buy a CD.


However, is it legal to use that music as part of presentation?

The short answer is no.


If you are playing the music for the school, it becomes a public performance. Public performance is different than personal use. Here is the definition of a public performance:


A “public performance” of music is defined in the U.S. copyright law to include any music played outside a normal circle of friends and family. Songwriters, composers, and music publishers have the exclusive right to play their music publicly and to authorize others to do so under the copyright law. This is known as the “Performing Right”. This right was designed to enable and encourage music creators to continue to create music.

When you see the words “All Rights Reserved” on a movie that you’ve rented or purchased, you know that playing that movie before a public audience is prohibited. The same restrictions apply to music that is purchased, broadcast, or live musicians that are hired to play in a public setting. Every business or organization must receive permission from the copyright owners of the music they are playing before playing it publicly.


Publicly includes schools. There are some “fair use” conditions that allow schools to use parts of copyrighted music, but those don’t generally cover assemblies. There is a popular misconception that because it is used in a school, copyright doesn’t apply.


The good news is that there are some resources that can be used. These are generally found by looking for Creative Commons licensed material. Specifically, you want to look for is licensed under ShareAlike.

Please see below for clarification from Creative Commons:


Can I use any song with a CC license on it?

Almost — you need to make sure that what you want to do with the music is OK under the terms of the particular Creative Commons license it’s under. CC-licensed music isn’t free for all uses, only some — so make sure to check out the terms (you can find these by clicking on each song’s license icon).

Most importantly, you need to use music that is not licensed under a No Derivative Works license. This means that the musician doesn’t want you to change, transform, or make a derivative work using their music. Under CC licenses, synching the music to images amounts to transforming the music, so you can’t legally use a song under a CC No Derivative Works license in your video.

Also, make sure to properly credit the musician and the track, as well as express the CC license the track is under. For example, you might include text like this at the end of your video:

This video features the song “Desaprendere (Treatment)” by fourstones, available under a Creative CommonsAttribution-Noncommercial license.



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