Copyright week, part II: Are you a pirate, or a thief?


Students need to clearly realize that creative enterprise is funded by copyright protection, and that sharing musical files (print or audio) is really a bad idea.

Photocopy machines have been around for years. The next step beyond photocopying copyrighted materials, seen widely today, is to scan them and share the files.

Requests are often seen online (such as in Facebook) for scans of musical works that are not in the public domain, perhaps out of print but more often in print and available for purchase. Bruce Hembd recently wrote in a note that “File sharing is a tricky issue when it comes to works that are under copyright.” It is tricky for a variety of reasons. People sometimes really do need music in an emergency situation. But the fact is that “With good planning, legally-acquired music can be bought or physically borrowed.” Continuing, he noted that “the right thing to do when acquiring printed music materials” would be to:

– Plan ahead.
– Buy the music in time for when it is needed.
– Support the composers and editors who put this stuff together by buying legal copies.

Otherwise we end up cannibalizing ourselves by discouraging people from creating the materials and rightfully profiting from them.

Fortunately, the administrators of the Horn People group on Facebook have been pretty on top of this issue. Legit emergencies can come up, but really there is not that much reason to legitimately file share music that is under copyright. Sharing of copies online in any form is a slippery slope for sure, and “your bad planning” is no reason to become a pirate and thief.

Some recent publications are in E-Book format, including several of mine. These you could file share really easily but I would like to think I can trust the honesty of the horn playing community that they would not undercut me as author/publisher in this manner.

In a closely related topic, one thing you will need to learn about if you record or arrange music is the topic of mechanical license. As noted in the Wikipedia article on this topic, “In copyright law, a mechanical license is a license that grants certain limited permissions to work with, study, improve upon, reinterpret, re-record (etc.) something that is neither a free/open source item nor in the public domain.”

Many people seem to think if you are a non-profit you don’t need to pay for or obtain the mechanical license to publish or record an arrangement. As a non-profit the copyright holder may give you a free license, but you still have to apply for and obtain mechanical license. There is no free pass because you are a non-profit on any of this. Without mechanical license you are a pirate and a thief in reality.

Another related concept thrown around a lot is “Fair Use.” There is more to it than “it is only illegal if you get caught.” More on that in the next installment.

Continue reading the copyright series

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