Committee on Professional Ethics (COPE), Computers, General Interest, International issues

by Joyce Johnston

A quick 10-question quiz earlier in the week checked on your knowledge of the ethics of music downloading. Here, as promised, are the facts.

  1. If I’m actually teaching, won’t Fair Use let me play the music I need for free? How about in school plays or talent shows? Aerobics classes, marching band or orchestra concerts, student drama productions, choir? Music is everywhere in schools! It sure is.  Inside the walls of your school—virtual or 3D–you can use music for instruction without further hassles. (See a list of other exemptions.)
  2. So the issue is public performance versus instructional use. How do I know which is which? A public performance occurs anywhere people gather—even casually–or where music is broadcast to the public. It’s public the minute music is performed to multiple listeners, like at school concerts, or costs money, like selling recordings of that concert. That includes streaming your performance too.
  3. What types of music can I use for public performances without licensing hassles? Great question. The Public Domain Information Project will give you the full legal answer, country by country. Short version: music you composed, original songs (but not other people’s covers), music written before 1977 whose authors have been dead for more than 70 years.  If you can wait until 2067, a huge amount of music will go out of copyright. (I know, I know—big help.)
  4. That’s not a lot. Who do I talk to about getting legal access? You need to check with the three companies who handle all the music licensing rights in the U. S.: The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), the Society of European Stage Authors and Composers (SESAC), and Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI.) The whole process is on “How to Perform a Song Copyright Search.”
  5. That sounds so complicated. Is there some easy way that a school or college can get cheap performance rights? Soundzabound claims to be the ONLY royalty free US music library which meets all the licensing and technology requirements needed for education
  6. How about an individual or community group? Where can we get low-cost tunes for our own enjoyment?  Check Wikipedia, of all places.  They have a great chart comparing legal online music stores in 14 different categories.  Or check out the selections on Why Music Matters.
  7. That’s better, but still not cheap. Could I use those Russian download sites I’ve heard about that charge only $2.52 for a whole album?  They all claim to be legal. There are so many Russian sites that you can even compare them at MP3 Obsession.  They all claim to “comply with copyright license #IT-03/10 and neighboring rights license #IT-03-1/10 issued by UPO “AVTOR.” Unfortunately for them, Russia changed its laws last May so now they’re illegal in Russia too.
  8. Well, is there any other country that can give me blanket access so I don’t have to go song by song? That takes forever.   There’s SESAC in Europe, ACEMLA for Spanish-language music and The PRS for Music in Britain but no international organization.  It’s the wild, wild West out there.
  9. So what happens if I get fed up with all this and just download the songs I want from peer-to-peer file sharers? You know I can! We know you can.  After all, the Pirate Bay, the world’s largest bit torrent indexer, has been ignoring copyright since 2003. In real life, massive music and video uploaders tend to get caught, but downloaders mostly don’t unless they’re really over the top.
  10. Wait–are the penalties bad if I do get caught? What happens then? In the US, the Copyright Alert System kicks in at the rate of 3 million alerts in 2014.  If you don’t stop, then you go through a series of 6 escalating steps designed to “educate” you about copyright infringement.  If you don’t get it by then, the Copyright Alert System simply takes away your internet access.  Simple, neat and effective.


Joyce Johnston teaches at George Mason University and has been writing and speaking on digital intellectual property and virtual instruction for more than 20 years. As a non-librarian, but a proud member of the Virginia Association of School Librarians, she has provided updates on intellectual property at its annual conference for the past 10 years and serves on the Executive Committee for the World Conference on Educational Media and Technology (aka EdMedia).

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