“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.

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April 13, 2007 at 10:24 am


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