Legal Issues Related to Music in an Education Setting

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In this lesson, we will discuss legal and ethical issues related to the use or performance of music in an educational setting, particularly regarding copyright laws and regulations concerning the use and performance of music.

Legal Issues

Plato said, 'Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination…' As a music teacher, you have a unique opportunity to inspire students, but there are also legal issues related to this discipline that need to be understood. Let's examine some of the laws and regulations related to music education.

Copyright Laws

What are copyright laws and why are they important? Copyright laws have been created by the federal government to protect creative works, including music. Compositions are copyrighted from the moment they are created, even if they are not registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. Copyright holders are the only people with rights to copy, alter, sell, lease, and perform copyrighted material. Those who violate copyright laws may face fines between $750-$250,000 and/or 5 years in prison.

Public Domain and Fair Use

What music can you use in your classroom? Work that is part of the public domain may be freely used without regard to copyright laws. Anything that was created prior to 1923 is automatically placed in the public domain; however, reprints and performances of music from the public domain may be protected by copyright. For works created from 1923-1963, the work is copyrighted until 95 years after the last date of copyright renewal. For works created from 1964-1977, the work is copyrighted for 95 years from the date of publication. For works created after January 1, 1978, copyright protection ends 70 years from the death of the longest surviving composer.

The fair use doctrine of copyright laws allows educators limited rights to use creative materials for educational purposes. However, copies under fair use should be limited to no more than 10% of the total work. When providing music for a performance, each student should be provided with a purchased copy. In the event that a student forgets to bring their music to a performance or practice, an emergency copy may be made, but it needs to be replaced by a purchased copy as soon as possible.

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