Frequently Asked Copyright Questions

Here you will find answers to some common copyright questions.

Why Can’t I Copy Anything I Want?

It’s against the law, other than in very specific circumstances, to make unauthorized copies of copyrighted materials.

What If I Am Faced With A Special Situation?

If you want to include copyrighted lyrics in a song sheet–arrange a copyrighted song for four baritones and kazoo–or make any special use of copyrighted music which the publisher cannot supply in regular published form, the magic word is… ASK! You may or may not receive permission, but when you use someone else’s property, you must have the property owner’s permission.

What If There’s No Time To Ask?

That makes no difference. Think of copyrighted music as a piece of property, and you’ll be on the right track. Plan ahead.

What About Photocopies That Are Now In Our Church/School/Library?

Destroy any unauthorized photocopies immediately. Replace them with legal editions.

Can I Make Copies Of Copyrighted Music First And Then Ask Permission?

No. Permission must be secured prior to any duplication.

What If I Can’t Find The Owner Of A Copyrighted Song… Can I Go Ahead And Copy It Without Permission?

No. You must have the permission of the copyright owner. Check the copyright notice on the work, and/or check with the publisher of the collection in which the work appears. Once you have this information, contact to the copyright owner.

To find the copyright owner try the following databases:

ASCAP’s ACE, a searchable database of all compositions in the ASCAP repertory which have appeared in any of ASCAP’s domestic surveys, including foreign compositions licensed by ASCAP in the United States.

BMI’s HYPER-REPERTOIRE, an internet song title database for publisher information on songs licensed by BMI.

SESAC’s ON-LINE REPERTORY for works in the SESAC repertory which have been compiled from various sources.

As A Soloist, Is It Permissible For Me To Make A Photocopy Of A Copyrighted Work For My Accompanist?

No. Permission for duplication, for any purpose whatsoever, must be secured from the copyright owner.

Is It Permissible To Print Words Only On A One-Time Basis, Such As In A Concert Program?

No. Permission must be secured prior to any duplication. Using “just the words” makes no difference.

But What About Items That Are Out Of Print?

Most publishers are agreeable, under special circumstances, to allow reproducing out-of-print items, but again, permission must be secured from the copyright owner prior to any duplication.

Can I Make A Transparency Of A Copyrighted Song For Use By Overhead Projector?

No. The making of a transparency is a duplication, and permission must be secured from the copyright owner.

Can I Make A Record Or Tape Using A Prerecorded Instrumental Accompaniment Track?

Two permissions are necessary here. One is from the copyright owner of the selection to be recorded, and the second is from the producer/manufacturer of the original record.

Can I Make A Band Arrangement Of A Copyrighted Piano Solo? Can I Make A Flute Arrangement Of A Copyrighted Work For Clarinet?

No. Making any arrangement is a duplication, and permission must be obtained from the copyright owner.

What About The Photocopiers Who Don’t “Get Caught”?

They force the price of legal editions higher. They enrich the manufacturers of copying machines at the expense of composers, authors, publishers and music retailers. They risk embarrassment from professional colleagues who understand the law; and they risk fines and jail sentences if taken to court. Frankly, we cannot imagine what kind of school, church or professional musician would derive satisfaction from being a thief.

Remember, any use of a copyrighted work for any purpose–for church, for school, for a non-profit organization–to be sold, to be rented–“just for our church”–words only–“we’re not selling copies”– emergency use–failure to locate the owner–or any other reason or justification–requires permission BEFORE any duplication or copies can be made.