by Amy Smith
It is an understatement to say that music rights are complex. The word I would use is “byzantine”. So when Joie Grandbois offered this workshop at Bright Star World Dance (Portland, ME) , I signed up immediately. Not only did I want to better understand this topic, but a video of a troupe performance that was posted to YouTube suffered a similar fate to that in the workshop title. It was not removed - it was silenced!
Joie is a performer, a teacher, and a paralegal. She works for an attorney who specializes in intellectual property rights. Interesting origins story for this job - Joie ran into a music rights issue for a performance, did loads of research, and when she consulted this attorney after reaching a dead end, the attorney was so impressed by her research that she hired Joie.
Joie cautioned us that she is not an attorney and that the information workshop did not constitute actual legal advice. However, it was an excellent overview of music licensing here in the United States, and I came away with a much better understanding of the performer’s responsibility for using music in performance and in videos.
Basically, there are three types of music licensing:
public performance rights - covers rights for using music for performance
mechanical licensing - for reproducing the music in a recording like a CD, or recording a cover and sharing it. They are also often needed for DVDs.
synchronization licensing - covers rights for using music on videos. Also often required for DVDs.
Each type of license is handled by different licensing entities. For example, public performance rights are handled by performer rights organizations like ASCAP and BMI, while synchronization rights are handled by the music publisher or recording label.
Many in our community have the impression that performer rights organizations such as BMI are big, bad wolves of corporate greed that prey on dancers and dance studios. This is false and misleading. ASCAP, BMI, and SEASAC are actually non-profit organizations that look out for musicians and musicians’ rights. Another interesting origin story - they were formed when player pianos became popular and manufacturers were putting songs on player piano reels without compensating the songwriters. Interestingly, the rates that were set back then have not changed much since the late 19th century, and as a result songwriter royalties are usually some percentage of a penny - in other words, 19th-century rates!
Joie diffused some common licensing myths, such as what exactly “public domain” means when it comes to music and how it is applied (basically, anything published before 1923), as well as the myth of being able to use x seconds of a song without having to pay a licensing fee.
Joie also shared great information for less costly (and free!) alternatives to traditional licensing. One such option is Creative Commons, a non-profit organization through which artists make their creative works available for others to build upon legally and to share. There is a large body of music available with Creative Commons licenses, which gives performers the legal right to do things like use their music in videos.
Joie said that she is happy to bring the workshop to other locations; I sincerely hope that other New England dance studios and teachers take advantage of this excellent resource. It can only benefit us a community by helping us be more informed and responsible about music rights and licensing.