Copyright Issues

Did you get paid last month?

Or did someone intercept your cheque or bank transfer? In effect that is what happens when we infringe copyright law. Your involvement in music may well extend to composition, so this message will have special relevance for you and indeed students who themselves go on to compose music.

Much music used in teaching is covered by copyright. This is because the composer is still alive or died fewer than 70 years ago. Copyright provides both the means by which you are paid for each use of your work and a framework that encourages investment in new composers.

The rules in the UK allow teachers some latitude in the "classroom" in recognition of the value of using copyright material in education and of the need for teachers and students to have reasonable access to it. The rules try therefore to keep a fair balance between the interests of copyright owners and teachers in the school, further and higher education sectors.

You may...

In summary, for the purpose of instruction in a school or college setting (and preparation therefor) teachers may

  • transcribe music by hand;
  • make copies of short excerpts of musical works;
  • arrange works in a way which is "not prejudicial to the honour or reputation of the original composer (subject to crediting the composer and attaching a warning label in a prescribed form)";
  • do whatever may be necessary to set exams and to enable performance in an actual exam (but NB once the paper becomes a "past" paper, copyright consent is necessary).
Music may also be performed and recordings of music played in the school or college setting for the purpose of instruction. But, permission must be obtained prior to copying, performance or other use of a musical work outside that educational setting, either directly from the copyright owner or from a body operating a licensing scheme on behalf of copyright owners.

If in doubt, check with the agencies listed in You may also find it helpful to look at the Education sections, 32 - 36, of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.


MusicEd believes that music education should be enabled rather than stifled by the prevailing copyright regime. And we believe that this is also the view of the principal licensing authorities. However, the day-to-day experience of teachers whether in the classroom, lecture hall or workshop situation, may well be that there are problems which should be resolvable.

Education copyright licensing has always been complicated. If anything, it has become more complicated since the introduction of local management of schools. When the LEA Associations negotiated agreements on behalf of LEAs, the schools' corner was better protected. As it is now, the education case may not always be heard. Interestingly, the UK universities have been considering the merits of a co-ordinated approach to copyright on the lines of a copyright co-ordination centre for the education sector. We will report on the outcome of those considerations.

Meantime, rather than ignore the rules, tell us about copyright issues you come across, for example, any scope for simplification, and we will check with colleagues at the National Association of Music Educators and the Music Education Council to establish the degree of support for what you say with a view to making representations to the copyright agency concerned.