Copyright for Virtual Concerts: What You Can and Cannot Do

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J.W. Pepper hosted a webinar on October 1st with Katie Baron, attorney and partner at Alter, Kendrick & Baron, LLP and Shari Molstad, Permissions Manager at Hal Leonard LLC. We have summarized the content of that webinar below and provided a link to a recording of it here. We hope this can help to point educators in the right direction as they navigate the new world of virtual performances.

Types of Copyright Licenses for Virtual Concerts
There are four types of copyright licenses involved with producing virtual concerts:

Performance License – grants the right to publicly perform (includes broadcasting)
⦁ Granted by performance rights organizations (PROs) including ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, and GMR in the United States
⦁ YouTube and Facebook already have blanket performance licenses with PROs 
⦁ Private websites need to secure performance rights
⦁ Does not apply to theatrical stage performances (musical theater, opera, etc.) – these must be obtained from the copyright holder 
Mechanical License – allows the recording of interactive (on-demand) audio only
⦁ Granted by the copyright holder of the music being recorded
Synchronization License – allows the recording of a musical work in timed relation to visual images
⦁ Granted by the copyright holder of the music being recorded
Master Recording License – allows the use of a prerecorded track in a recording (audio or visual)
⦁ Granted by the producer of the specific recorded track (example: Hal Leonard would license the use of an accompaniment track that they created)

What Copyright Licenses Are Needed?
We have listed five typical performance scenarios below along with the licenses that could be required. Best practice: check with the copyright owner just in case!

ScenarioPerformance*MechanicalSynchronizationMaster Rights
Livestream ONLYYesMaybe
Livestream ONLY using recorded accompanimentYesMaybeYes
Livestream WITH recordingYesYes
Livestream WITH recording using recorded accompanimentYesYesYes
Virtual choir, band, or other ensembleYesMaybe**YesMaybe (depends on the accompaniment used in the video)

*Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram have blanket performance licenses in place with PROs, so if you stream on these platforms you don’t need another performance license.

**Creating audio-only tracks as part of an educational exercise (creating a virtual choir for class) does not require a mechanical license. But you DO need a synchronization license to create the final compilation video.

How to Request Copyright Licenses
First, if you need to secure performance rights for your pieces, you should contact the PROs below as they all have different publishers in their song catalogs. Search their song databases (linked below) to find which ones can license the songs on your concert program:
ASCAP
BMI
SESAC
GMR (search is in the upper right corner of the homepage)

Next, you’ll need to find the copyright owner of the pieces on your performance to request mechanical, synchronization, and master rights licenses. This company or person is generally listed at the bottom of your music next to the copyright symbol:

locate copyright owner sample

In the case above, the copyright owner is Solrey Music.

Then, you’ll need to figure out how to contact them. The easiest way is to check the PRO song databases for Solrey Music. Here’s an example of searching via BMI’s website using the song title “Shape of Water”:

You would then contact Universal Music, as they are the copyright owner/publisher for Solrey Music. These publishers generally have a licensing page and a handy form to request licenses.

PRO TIP: License requests need to be made in writing (or through a website form or email), so a phone call won’t be enough. You’ll still need to submit your information.

Finally, there are also some organizations that work with performing groups to secure licensing for their concerts or virtual projects on the performers’ behalf, taking care of finding publishers and requesting licenses for you. Here are three to check out for more information:

Innovative Product Bundles for Performing Virtually
Many publishers are putting together product bundles that include everything you need to rehearse, record, and broadcast a specific piece – including the licenses!

Each publisher’s bundle comes with different components, so read the descriptions carefully. For instance, some come with the sheet music, but others must be ordered separately. These bundles take the guesswork out of figuring out which licenses you need to legally perform in a virtual environment. And they’re reasonably priced! We are adding more products to this list daily, so stop back often to see what’s new!

Shop Virtual Choral Packs for Online Instruction

Additional Reading
Music Publishing Association – Streaming Live Music & COVID-19: What You Need to Know
NAfME – Copyright Performance Exemptions
NAfME – Copyright Law: What Music Teachers Need to Know
National Federation of State High School Associations – Copyright: COVID-19 Guidance
Barbershop Harmony Society – Livestreaming Your Show: A 3-Step Copyright Guide
U.S. Copyright Office – copyright.gov

Andrea Pelloquin
Andrea Pelloquin is Events Manager at J.W. Pepper, managing all virtual and live events for the company. Andrea is a former band director and private music teacher and has worked in the print music industry in both retail and publishing capacities for over 15 years.

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