Editor’s note: Most music teachers are concerned with copyright law but it often ends up being a lower priority than rehearsing, teaching, and preparation. Given a finite number of hours in a day, where can a busy music educator turn for copyright advice?
While we’ve shared some helpful links at the end of this article, we can also recommend this book as an excellent resource; Copyright Handbook for Music Educators and Directors.
As part of a series of posts about copyright, we asked the book’s co-author, Pam Phillips, about what motivated her to develop her knowledge of copyright as well as what inspired her to create this book.
People often ask how I ended up learning about copyright. My motivation grew from confusion and embarrassment.
By the mid-1990s, my husband, Bob Phillips, had taught public school orchestra for about 20 years. I was simultaneously running a business outside of the music world, but was also very involved with the school orchestra program, both helping Bob and as a music parent.
He had generally relied on what he heard from other directors to decide what was “OK” to do regarding copyright so that was where I started. So I have been where many educators find themselves today and I hope my story will give them hope that copyright can be sorted out and that there are resources available to help anyone learn the basics of copyright.
Two things happened that changed my focus from my own business to the music business happening in our home.
First, Bob and Andy Dabczynski wrote their first book, Fiddlers Philharmonic. We considered self-publishing, creating our own publishing company, and working through a distributor. The company would have been called Hamilton Hymer, combining Andy and Bob’s middle names. I did the research on costs and production processes for self-publishing. The decision was made to publish, instead, with Alfred Music.
Second, Bob founded a fiddle group that became highly successful, performing and recording frequently and in professional situations. I became the business manager, quickly finding this a huge job! As I worked to license arrangements and recordings, it became clear that there was great confusion regarding what the copyright law really said. I began researching it, reading, calling organizations, searching online (there was not nearly as much online then as there is now), and discussing copyright at conferences when I happened upon representatives of organizations such as ASCAP.
The Big Moment
Bob’s fiddle group sponsored two “Hometown Concerts” each year, bringing in nationally known fiddlers/folk artists to perform and teach. One year, as one of the performing groups prepared to leave for the airport after a wonderful weekend, they took me aside and mentioned that one of the arrangements our fiddle group performed had infringed on their copyright. They also explained how, why, and what we should have done. They were very kind, not angry, and understood this occurred due to a lack of knowledge and not through an intention to infringe.
Nevertheless, it was extremely embarrassing. I determined that I would double-down on my self-study of copyright law and make sure this did not happen again!
Joining the Alfred Family
Eventually, both Bob and I became part of Alfred Music. Our jobs as editors involved copyright for orchestra pieces, books, and the Suzuki catalog. The Alfred Business Affairs staff handles the actual legal work for these products, but it is incumbent on the editors to understand copyright and to understand how the law intersects with the day-to-day work of music teachers. Needless to say, there was quite a bit of learning on the job.
Alfred’s sister company, MakeMusic, involves quite a bit of licensing within SmartMusic, so is also deeply involved in the use of copyright. As Alfred collaborated on SmartMusic projects over the years, I also watched how that functioned.
Others in the Same Boat
As I spoke with teachers at conferences and clinics, it became clear that most teachers had as little information about copyright as I did at the beginning. While I continued to study any new copyright books published for teachers, since the topic is complex and often unclear, these books were lengthy. Knowing how little time most teachers have, I was pretty certain that few would ever read them. Further complicating the matter, the best resource at the time, a book by Jay Althouse, was going out of print.
As my knowledge grew, I began presenting clinics at music conferences, providing guidelines for the most common copyright questions that come up in music teaching. As I am not an attorney, I still stick to answering those questions that have answers, according to my understanding of the law. Copyright law, much like tax law, is sometimes contextual, unclear, and can fall into grey areas where the outcome is determined in a court. It is of utmost importance to work with an intellectual property attorney when a teacher has questions that fall in the grey areas.
The book project, Copyright Handbook for Music Educators and Directors, grew from those presentations. My co-author, Andrew Surmani, then a VP at Alfred, saw my clinic, and suggested the book. At that time Andrew had more than 25 years of experience in publishing and had taught university-level music industry classes. Together our goal was to create a short book, a handbook, that would be accessible for teachers – brief, highly indexed, and presented in layman’s language.
So that is my story of developing an understanding of copyright law for music educators.
While I believe the handbook represents a great summary for teachers and directors, I also encourage anyone interested to do their own research as well. A more in-depth book, also from Alfred, is Music Publishing: The Complete Guide by Steve Winogradsky. I’ve also listed a few of the many available online resources below.
Thank you for all you do as a music educator, and congratulations to you for looking online for more information on how to comply with copyright law.
- The U.S. Copyright Office
- The Music Publishers Association
- The National Music Publishers’ Association
- The National Association for Music Education
- The ASCAP Foundation
- Broadcast Music, Inc.
- The Importance of Copyright Law: Dos and Don’ts for Music Educators
- Festivals, Copyrighted Music, and Ratings: How to Avoid Not Getting a Rating