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April 30, 2014
Abbie Betinis Music Co.

Conductor's Flow Chart for New Music Programming

"Dear Abbie: I've just finished programming my concert! Yay! I found all the coolest stuff to put on it, and I'm super excited. But I hate all the legal mumbo-jumbo. I just want to make music. Help!"       Love,
Every Conductor.

First, don't panic. Second, understand that copyright is awesome and important. It helps composers survive so that we can keep creating cool stuff for you! Third, look at this picture until you feel relaxed and happy. Okay! Now you're ready for the flow chart:

  1) Have you programmed any pieces with a US copyright date of 1923 or later? (Click to view/hide)
Yes: Read on, my friend, this is going to be your trusty guide! And you will be a champion of new music and composers everywhere!

No: You don't need this flow chart since your music is most likely in the public domain. (Don't worry, you're also a champion, just... of dead people.)

  2) Do you want to DISTRIBUTE the sheet music? (Click to view/hide)
No, I am going to learn the music by ear. Go to #3.

Yes: If you will be distributing sheet music to your musicians, they must be 'real' copies, purchased or licensed legally from the publisher (or from a dealer who purchases from the publisher). Is the piece published?
a. No, it looks like it has not been published (it is in manuscript, a new work or premiere, or it is somehow missing the © Copyright notice at the bottom of the first page of music):
Under US copyright law, works of art created in 1923 or later are under copyright even without the copyright symbol © or the word "Copyright" specifically on them. Contact the copyright holder (in this case the composer or arranger) to purchase the score in manuscript, or request a license to copy and distribute the perusal score you own. By no means, ever, should you copy and distribute a copyrighted score without permission from the copyright holder.

b. Yes, it was once published and now is Permanently Out of Print (P.O.P). But the copyright is still valid since it's 1923 or later.
This is the worst. The score has gone to no-man's-land to die. Frankly, you may need to find a different piece.
You can try contacting the publisher directly to request it On-Demand. It's not always possible. Ask specifically for permission to copy and distribute the score you have. Get the publisher's permission in writing. Keep the letter/email/fax in a safe place.
You can try contacting the composer, or the composer's estate. They don't usually have permission themselves to distribute a score to which they don't own the copyright, but they might have tricks for reaching the publisher quickly or have other avenues to obtain it.

c. Yes, it is published by a large company.
Contact your favorite dealer to order the piece.

d. Yes, it is published by a small company owned by the composer.
This is what Abbie Betinis Music Co., LLC is -- a small business, registered in Minnesota, which happens to just publish and distribute the music of one composer: that's me! Small independent houses like mine, or Seafarer Press or Hummingbird Press are comfortable selling music through dealers or to you directly if you prefer. If you buy our music through a dealer, please consider letting us know your performance date (why?).

e. Yes, it is self-published by the composer.
Buy the score from the composer - probably through his or her website. Each self-publisher has a slightly different system for filling orders, so follow their directions closely to ensure a speedy delivery.
Extra Credit: let the composer know the date(s) of your upcoming performance. (why?)

f. Um, I can't tell if it's published. It has a symbol at the bottom, but it looks weird.
Does it look like this (Share Alike), or one of these (Creative Commons), or this (CreatorEndorsed), or this (CC0)? Composers are experimenting with a variety of ways to let their works be shared more widely, by restricting only some (or none) of their rights, instead of the "full package" that Copyright protects.
This is a fantastic guide to sheet music copyright, and gives specific instances where you can (and cannot) copy sheet music: Tresona: Music Copyrights.

  3) Do you want to PERFORM the piece in public? (Click to view/hide)
a. No, I just needed the score for study/ kindling.
Go to #4.

b. Yes, as part of a worship service or K-12 school program:
      Will this service/program be transmitted beyond where it takes place (e.g. radio/TV broadcast)?
Yes. Talk with your distribution company (radio station, TV channel, webcast team) about who will report and pay for the performance rights fees.

No. Your school or church may be exempt from paying performance royalties. Section 110 of the U.S. Copyright Law states that non-dramatic performances of music by schools or churches during the course of worship services or school functions are exempt from performance licensing, provided there is no purpose of direct or indirect commercial advantage, no compensation is paid to the performers, promoters or organizers, and no admission is charged. But (good news for composers) -- even if your performance is exempt from Performance licensing under Section 110, composers may still receive compensation for your performances -- at no charge to you! -- as long as you let us know about your performances. Go to #4.

c. Yes, my ensemble was invited to perform on a presenter's series:
Check with the presenter or venue to make sure they report all their series programming to Performing Rights Organizations (PROs) like ASCAP and BMI. If they do not, it will be up to you to report (and pay for) the performance rights.

d. Yes, on our own concert:
You will probably need to license your performance with a Performing Rights Organization (PRO). To make sure, click here. You can purchase a license for just one event, or a "blanket" license for your season. Report your public performances of each piece to the PRO that the publisher belongs to. Often on the score you'll see it listed next to the composer's name (ex. Abbie Betinis, ASCAP). If it's not listed, you can look up the specific piece in databases on the ASCAP and BMI websites. Note: It sometimes happens that a composer may be listed in both databases, but a specific score can only be licensed to one PRO, so pay the license to the PRO who holds the specific title.

e. No, but I want to transmit a studio recording performance via radio, TV or Internet.
Radio and TV negotiate and pay their own performance royalties to the publisher so conductors generally don't need to worry about anything there. (Just make sure you don't proclaim your recording "royalty-free" without asking the sheet music publisher's permission! Those rights are not yours to give away.) For more on internet performances, see #5.

  4) Do you want to DISTRIBUTE AUDIO practice tracks? (Click to view/hide)
No. Go to #5.

Yes. You will need a Mechanical License. Go to 5b.

  5) Do you want to DISTRIBUTE AUDIO recordings (for sale or free) of your performance? (Click to view/hide)
a. No. Go to #6.

b. Yes. You will need a Mechanical License. Make an account with LimeLight and supply them with your track list.

Did you get all your tracks licensed for distribution by LimeLight?
Yes, super-easy! They billed us for the license, plus a service fee, and now our album is legal!
Go to #6.
No, I didn't want to do it that way. Is there another option?
Yes, but you'll have to contact each publisher yourself. Look up each one -- including the small, independent publishers. Send an email saying, "I'd like to request a mechanical license for [composition title] with the duration of [min:sec] for our upcoming album entitled [title]. We are making [#] number of copies, to be sold [digitally/physically] with a proposed release date of [when]." The rate is set by the government at $0.091 per unit (for tracks 5 min or less), so double-check that the publisher charged you correctly. The good news is that this option is cheaper (usually no service fee). It's just cumbersome and takes time.

Some publishers have devised simpler ways to obtain a mechanical license directly from them. Here's the easy Mechanical License online form I use for Abbie Betinis Music Co. (If you're looking to record a piece of music I publish, please fill it out!) Then go to #6.

Bedtime Reading
If you're not sure you need a license, read this: NAfME: Mechanical Licensing & You (What You Need To Know).

And here is a fantastic guide to sheet music copyright, and gives specific instances where you do (and do not) need a mechanical license -- as well as the penalties: Tresona: Music Copyrights.

  6) Do you want to DISTRIBUTE VIDEO (play-on-demand) of your live performance? (Click to view/hide)
a. No. Go to #7.

b. Yes, I want to post a video of our live performance.
This is technically something that requires a license between the distributor (you) and the sheet music publisher, and requires a synchronization license from that copyright holder (or permission from them to waive the license). Unlike the mechanical rate for audio recordings, the synch rate is not set by congress, but in my experience it is tiny -- literally pocket change, if the publisher charges you at all. Most publishers are glad to be asked, and -- by now -- have a policy in place where they can press 'send' on a template email reply explaining that they have opted in favor of you advertising their music for them for free, rather than wasting time drawing up a synch license and invoice.

If you have heard that you don't have to do this for YouTube, you are mistaken. Yes, YouTube is developing a crafty Content ID system to automatically recognize copyrighted songs, add advertising to your video, and pay the rights-holders through that ad revenue, but as I understand it, they do this ONLY when publishers have opted-in. YouTube will apparently be expanding/changing this soon, for a three year trial period, so the best advice is to just get permission from the sheet music publisher anyway. The publisher may have opted in to YouTube's Content ID system for a limited time and their terms could change unbeknownst to you. Then you could be fined or sued. So just have a proper paper (or email) trail.

So send the publisher a request to upload an 'on-demand video of a live performance.' Include the composer's name, piece title, and copyright information. Most likely you'll get a template response from them that will tell you exactly what to do next.

c. Abbie!! I want to post a video of a piece by YOU!
Well, why didn't you say so? Here's the current policy at Abbie Betinis Music Co:
Gratis (i.e. free) permission is granted to post videos on the web (e.g. YouTube) of live performances of any Abbie Betinis Music Co. titles, as long as these five requirements are met:
  1. Video Title must include a) the title of my piece, and b) my name "Abbie Betinis"
    e.g. Be Like the Bird, by Abbie Betinis - OR - Abbie Betinis: Be Like the Bird (The MPR Carolers) - etc.
  2. Video Description must include: "Uploaded with permission of the publisher, Abbie Betinis Music Co."
  3. Videos must be free to view (i.e. they must not require a paid subscription), and carry no revenue-generating advertising.
  4. Videos must be of live performances.
  5. Abbie Betinis Music Co can change this policy at any time.
Optional (but good practice in general):
  • In the video itself: Add a banner in the beginning with the song title and composer name (this ensures attribution to the composer even if the video is embedded elsewhere).
  • In the description: Name the conductor, ensemble, accompanists, soloists, and the date of the performance
  • Let me know about it! Maybe post a link to my Facebook page so all my fans can see too.

  7) Do you want to STREAM VIDEO of, or WEBCAST, your live performance? (Click to view/hide)
God No. Go to #8.

Yes. Live streaming is considered a public performance. So to make sure the composer gets paid, all that is required here is a performance license from the publisher's Performing Rights Organization (PRO) -- like ASCAP or BMI. Remember though: this public performance license does not generally include permission to archive the streamed concert. (For that, you need the Synchronization license for video distribution. Go back to #6)

  8) Do you want to DISTRIBUTE VIDEO that is 'synched' with the audio, like in a movie or ad? (Click to view/hide)
No. Go to #9.

Yes, I want to produce a video where audio is 'synched' with the visual, and the visual is not a live performance -- like a movie, a TV show, documentary about my chorus, an advertisement for my college, etc.
Contact the publisher or copyright holder to request a Synchronization License. These license fees are not standard, not government regulated, and can vary greatly. Include in your request: the composer's name, piece title, copyright information, duration of the clip, how many units you plan to distribute and in what format (physical DVDs, digital on-demand), and expected release date.

  9) Do you want to ARRANGE the music? (Click to view/hide)
a. No. You're done!

b. Yes, and perform my arrangement with my ensemble.
You can generally arrange and perform music by ear without seeking permission to create the arrangement (then go back to #3, above, to report your performance of your 'cover' of the original piece). But contact the publisher to obtain permission to write down that arrangement ("create a derivative work"). Ask the publisher how they'd prefer you to report your performance and to which PRO (yours, the original composer's, or both).

Yes, and publish my arrangement.
In this case, permission from the publisher of the original song is required.

If you have suggestions for -- or corrections to -- this guide, please contact me.