Music Copyright Laws and Playing a Song at a Meeting

By Holly Cameron

Copyright laws protect original musical works from unauthorized copying, sale or reproduction. Before playing a song at a meeting, the organizers should make sure that they are not contravening the composer’s copyright. Two main issues are relevant here: First, whether or not the song has copyright protection and second, whether playing it at the meeting constitutes a public performance. The applicable legal provisions are contained in Title 17 of the United States Code.

Definition of Musical Work

Copyright exists for any original musical work from the moment it is created or fixed in a tangible medium of expression. The composer, therefore, owns the copyright as soon as he records the music in a physical format or writes the music down. A musical work, as defined by copyright law, includes any accompanying words. Although the composer owns the initial copyright, he may sell or license it to other parties.

Copyright Status

The copyright status of a song can be checked by searching the U.S. Copyright Office’s catalog of copyright entries online. For a fee, staff at the office will conduct the search. The fee varies according to the amount of work required.

Protect against infringement by registering a copyright. Get Started Now

Public Domain

A musical work remains protected by copyright from the date of its creation until 70 years after the composer’s death. After this period has elapsed, the song is within the public domain and organizers of a meeting may play it without fear of contravening copyright law.

Public Performance

Copyright laws define a public performance of music as one taking place either in a public venue or in a place where a substantial number of people -- outside a normal circle of friends and family -- gather. Organizers will breach copyright if they play copyrighted songs at a meeting that falls within this definition. A small meeting of friends and/or family, taking place at a private house where music is played, is unlikely to constitute a public performance. Playing music at a meeting in a public coffee house would likely constitute a public performance.

License

If the organizers want to play songs at a meeting that falls within the definition of public performance, they should apply for a license from the copyright owner and – in most cases -- will need to pay a fee. The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers is one of many organizations that sells and grants licenses for the public performance of songs in the United States.

Protect against infringement by registering a copyright. Get Started Now
Video Copyright Laws

References

Related articles

How Can Copyrights Affect You?

Copyright protects the economic interests of writers, artists, musicians and other creative professionals in the fruits of their intellectual labor. Copyrights affect both business and personal use of a wide variety of common items; infringing on someone's copyright can create legal and economic problems at home and at work.

Music Copyright Laws for Church Praise & Worship

Music is an integral and much-loved part of the worship services of churches and other religious institutions. A large portion of the music sung by church choirs and congregations and played by organists or other musicians is protected by copyright law. Churches are exempt from some copyright laws regarding performances, but nonprofit religious institutions must honor all other copyright laws regarding copying and recording music for praise and worship.

Copyright & Fair Use Guidelines for School Projects

Using materials created by other people in a school project isn't necessarily a violation of the copyright laws. Students routinely lift images from web pages to illustrate a science project or quote passages from books in class papers. While the copyright law often protects such materials, the act of copying them may be protected by the fair use exception of the copyright law.

Related articles

Movie Copyright Laws

Copyright laws prohibit individuals and organizations from copying or reproducing original works without permission ...

Copyright Laws Related to Using Movies for Group Showing

A copyright is created once an original work of authorship is fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Virtually all ...

DVD Copyright Rules

United States copyright law is designed to protect the rights of people who create artistic work and those who purchase ...

Copyright Laws for Textbooks

U.S. copyright law gives an author the exclusive right to duplicate and distribute her original work for a certain ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED