When Is It a Copyright Violation?
I’m a private instructor, teaching piano, drum set, and composition. One of the most valuable teaching tools I have in my studio is my music notation software. Being able to easily type music and export as PDF or print to paper right in my studio is a great advantage to me, but when do we as music educators need to worry about copyright violation?
- If you and your student are composing an original, and you’re using music notation software to document the composition – you don’t have to worry about it.
- If you’re typing up technical exercises that are your originals, or royalty free (example, Hannons), you don’t have to worry about it.
- If you’re typing up an arrangement of royalty free music (example, anything by Bach), you don’t have to worry about it.
- If you’re typing up music someone else composed, and they haven’t been dead for as long as Bach, you need to worry about it.
How can I avoid copyright violation in my classroom?
If you’re working on music that someone else composed, and you’d like to jot down a quick arrangement in your music notation software, you need to:
- Check to see if it’s in the public domain (that means, no longer copyrighted).
- If it’s not in the public domain, grab permission from whoever holds the current copyright. Don’t know where to start? It’s not as hard to do as you might think; learn the basics here.
How would this look in real life?
Let’s say that my piano student is working on “Let It Be,” by John Lennon. I’m guiding my student through this tune because it’s popular and the student is interested in learning it. It also has potential to help the student with a particular left hand pattern we’ve been working on.
So, I open my music notation software, and start typing in a quick arrangement. I include the left hand pattern I believe is appropriate, plotted on the 5-lined staff, and slap the melody with a few harmonies supporting the chord progression in the right hand. Save as PDF. Email to student or print right there in the studio.
What’s the problem?
There are arrangements of “Let It Be” for sale in music stores and also online. We just ripped off those publishers. Plus, “Let it Be” is too awesome to be public domain. We just created a copyright violation. In fact, if I named the PDF “Let It Be Easy Piano,” and it somehow got shared on the internet (perhaps social media?) it might turn up in a search result. Yikes.
When you’re a music notation software whiz, it’s tempting to type up an arrangement appropriate for your students without obtaining legal copyright. Remember that you can check to see if it’s in the public domain; if a tune is older than 1922, it’s safe to use! This means it will be a very long time before you can feel good about making arrangements of Frozen for your students in your music notation software without getting permission from Disney.
I hope this article is thought provoking. I’d love to discuss the issues with you! Leave me a question in the comments below.
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