“Fair use” in music copyright

April 13, 2007


Yesterday I attended a presentation sponsored by the UCLA Library in conjunction with an office that oversees copyright and ownership issues on campus. Music librarian Gordon Theil presented most of the talk. Musicologist and award winning author Raymond Knapp also spoke of the copyright issues in his most recent books.

Gordon had this information on the overhead projector. Cornell has an excellent webpage about the issue of copyright that I encourage everyone who deals with this issue to read.

One of the topics was the issue of getting permission for musical quotes in dissertations. The National Music Publishers Association tells the world that all musical examples MUST have permissions with them. But, this is just not the case. UCLA is poised to push the limits of fair use copyright, specifically in the realm of education.

Ray Knapp has big old fat 1 minute quotes from commercial recordings on UCLA servers as musical examples in his book. In the margins, there will be a number like 1:23 indicating that on the website, this is the 23rd example in chapter 1. This is much more useful than the tradition of strapping in CDs on the back flap of the book. The point was made that the student or reader simply cannot follow the argument and explanation unless they hear the music. This is especially true in music classes where we put entire compositions online for our students to listen to, and, I’m fairly sure, download for their own educational use.

Rob Walser pointed out that music copyright these days is really a game of chicken. There is no law that says you can only play 15″, or 30″ or 1 minute clips of copy written sound recordings. Publishers make up copyright policies but these are in reality only company policies. You’ll notice in my “The Makers Make” post below, I have two little musical quotes of copyrighted copywritten sound recordings. I could not have made my point to the majority of readers who do not read music, unless I had illustrated what I meant. This is entirely legal.

My biggest copyright challenge at the moment is my piano transcriptions of Rufus Wainwright songs. His publishers claim that there is a songbook “coming out” (like Godot or the 2nd coming) and that I should quote from IT, rather than use my own examples. Well, 2 years later and the songbook is still not out and I need to use musical examples in my book. So, I’m just going to use my own transcriptions. In order to be “safe” I will not print the entire song in the book, which was my original intent, but rather big chunks of it.

I have been putting my music online for people to listen to, and YES, you may download the music. Just don’t sell it. Copyright is indeed going through interesting times. I’m privileged to work for a place that wants to push the limits, and trust me, I plan to.

{ 1 trackback }

quotes » “Fair use” in music copyright
April 13, 2007 at 10:24 am

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

wesleyp April 17, 2007 at 12:24 am

I hate to nitpick as this wasn’t the main point of the post.. BUT..
From the two courses I’ve taken in the music/music history departments, UCLA music courses stream music examples via a secured website that does not offer an option for downloading. I’m sure a crafty person could figure out a way to get at the files, but not without a bit of effort.

That being said, I’m proud of the University for taking an agressive stance on testing these preconceived norms that bare little legal precedent.

Roger Bourland April 17, 2007 at 10:19 am

Wesley, well that’s good. I taught a Rufus Wainwright course and it appeared that all of the songs on my reserve list, after I listened to them, ended up on my desktop, albeit with strange names…

CBJ Smith June 18, 2007 at 8:22 am

Sorry to be a noodge to an otherwise interesting post, but if you are going to “verbify” the noun “copyright”, then it would have to be “copyrighted” NOT “copy written”. Wrong root, you understand; it is “right” and not “write.” As I have previously posted, these little typos tend to weaken your authority in the matter you are discussing, which would be a crying shame. I’m sure you want to be considered a rigourous authority, as much as we all want you to be!

Roger Bourland June 18, 2007 at 9:08 am

CBJ: I stand corrected! and I am not an authority on copyright, I know something but only understand a bit of it.

Blogs, as far as I know, are often a bit rough. I don’t have anyone proofing this for me except for readers. I have several colleagues who said they could never blog because they would obsess about revisions and typos and so on.

The write/right bug is still in my brain. It is the RIGHT to copy, not write. So, thanks CB.

Previous post:

Next post: