Recording and Copyright Resources for Dartmouth Musicians

recording resources info sessionOn Monday, September 19th from 3:30 – 4:30pm, colleagues from the Dartmouth Music Department, Paddock Music Library, Jones Media Center, and the Scholarly Communication, Copyright and Publishing program will be co-facilitating an information session for Dartmouth musicians.  The session will cover a range of topics related to recording at Dartmouth including the importance of building your musical portfolio, spaces and equipment available for rent through Dartmouth, and copyright of recorded works.

I’m preparing for the copyright portion. Before my life as a librarian, I studied art history and studio art.  I’ve had a range of opportunities to work with artists of all kinds within museums, art libraries,  and as a student myself, so it always brings me joy when my role as a digital scholarship librarian takes me back to the artist community.  I haven’t had as much of an opportunity to work with musicians as I have had to work with painters, graphic designers, sculptors, and printers, so I’ve been doing a little more research on what musicians should know about copyright as it relates to both the work of other musicians and their own work.

One unique thing I’ve realized about the musical world through this process, is that in order to understand who holds the copyright, one needs to understand the difference between a musical work and a sound recording.  A musical work is an original song, and the person who created that song owns the copyright.  That seems simple enough. A sound recording is a performance of that underlying musical work, and the artist who created the recording holds the copyright. Somehow this surprised me at first, but when I think about it by following the permission breadcrumbs, it makes sense.  So…If I want to record or perform Elton John’s Rocket Man, I would need to get permission from Elton John to do that. Since Elton John can be hard to reach, I might do that requesting that license via,, or loudr.  If I want to record Coldplay’s cover of Elton John’s Rocket Man, I need to get permission from Elton and also from Coldplay. You can see how this can quickly become complicated and confusing in the music industry.

Understanding copyright law for any form of media can be very confusing, which is one of the reasons I’m constantly reminding people that I am NOT a lawyer when I’m trying to help them understand copyright.  But, I sense that copyright law surrounding music leaves some additional gray area that lends itself to interpretation.  Fair use, for example, can be applied to music used in an educational setting, however musical performance tends to stretch beyond what typically falls into the “educational category” (e.g., it is used for a course within the confines of a scheduled course meeting or via a login protected course management system), which leaves it difficult for musicians in an academic setting to determine if fair use applies to their work. For this reason, many institutions have blanket licensing agreements with associations like ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Artists, and Performers) that allow them to perform pieces available through ASCAP in a variety of ways (onstage, glee clubs, etc.) An institution’s performing arts department or music department would typically provide more information on what kinds of licensing agreements apply to the campus.

Creative Commons licensing makes it easy for musicians who compose something that they’d like to share.  So, if I write a song, and I want others to use it, but not commercially, and only if they give me credit for it–there is a Creative Commons license for that. This is an important message to share with new musicians, and something that my part of Monday’s information session will focus on heavily. Creative Commons allows a musician to share their work online as they create their digital portfolios for auditions, etc. while still allowing them to retain copyright of their work, but share certain parts of that copyright to others if they wish.

I’m looking forward to Monday’s session and the questions that the Dartmouth musicians might have.  Like most workshops I contribute to, I expect that I will learn something new from the musicians and will walk away with more questions to explore.

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