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3 Things Music Therapists Should Know About Copyright Law

by Kimberly on April 27, 2011 · 4 comments

Earlier this month, I attended a highly informative “Lunch & Learn” session at the Midwestern regional music therapy conference. The topic?

Copyright Law.

This is something that every music therapist–and, let’s face it, every musician–should have a basic understanding of. Because chances are we use music in our work that is protected by copyright law.

Copyright law is airtight and complicated. I learned all the information provided in this article from the fabulous presenter, Donald R. Simon. Although I hope this brief synopsis will help, keep in mind that you will get the best advice from an attorney who specializes in media law.

The only bit of copyright law that I was vaguely familiar with was the idea that music remained protected under the law until 70 years after the composer’s death (and not just music for that matter–this includes plays, books, recordings, pictures, and more).

But what about the rest of music? I know music therapists–myself included–don’t just stick to Brahms, Mozart, and Beethoven. We use Beatles, Pete Seeger, even Lady Gaga and the Black Eyed Peas.

It turns out that, generally speaking, you’re safe to play music in a “family-type gathering” setting. That’s good news for music therapists who facilitate individual and small group sessions.

But what about large group sessions? Music therapists commonly facilitate these–I’ll even venture to say that we specialize in that. Turns out that the facility where you work should pay a licensing fee from either Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) or The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP).

BMI and ASCAP collect licensing fees on behalf of authors and composers. As long as that facility–whether it be a bar, hospital, rehab center, school, or daycare–as long as that facility has a BMI or ASCAP sticker, you’re safe to play songs without having to worry about copyright infringement.

So what’s the take home message?

  1. First, for more detailed information, you really should consult with an attorney who specializes in media and copyright law.
  2. Second, playing music for a family-type gathering (e.g. most individual and small-group music therapy sessions) don’t typically fall under copyright infringement.
  3. Third, if you facilitate large-group sessions, make sure that facility has paid the ASCAP or BMI license fee.



{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Faith Halverson-Ramos April 27, 2011 at 10:37 am

Good information to know. I wonder how facilities such as nursing homes, rehab centers, and schools would respond to having to pay the ASCAP or BMI license fee? If that were too much of a financial hardship for facilities, I wonder if it’s possible for a music therapist as their own business entity to pay the license fees so that the licensing would follow them regardless of the facility where they’re at.

John Lawrence April 27, 2011 at 11:10 am

I also believe strongly that we music therapists should be taking advantage of the benefits of the “Creative Commons” licensing to copyright and protect our digital artifacts (i.e. YouTube videos, blogs, etc.). For more information about CC licensing, visit:

Kimberly May 4, 2011 at 9:20 am

Good point, @John! Thank you for sharing the link and reminding us about CC licensing. @Faith I don’t know how expensive the licensing fees are and I imagine they would not like adding it to already stressed budgets. But it’s a big risk NOT to do it–my understanding from the talk is that copyright law is pretty airtight and, if they decide to go after a facility, it won’t matter if you’re a big corporation or a daycare center. As for your question about a music therapist purchasing a licensing fee, again I don’t know. That would be a question for an attorney who specializes in media law. ~Kimberly

Don Simon May 8, 2011 at 9:06 pm

Great post Kimberly! Glad you enjoyed my presentation.

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