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  1. Collaborative Articles
  2. Music, Sound Effects and Copyrights

Unless the music and/or sound effects you wish to use for your production are in the public domain, you will need to secure the right to use it from the person or entity that holds the copyright. Doing something at home for a few friends is ok, but anything done in a theatre, even at school or church, is almost always considered a public performance.

As far as "fair use for education" for all of you at schools, colleges, and universities goes, don't just assume you can use the music/fx. Check! My music theory teacher passed out copies he made of sheet music for us to sing (which was copyrighted) and said the only reason he could make copies legallly was because it was for educational purposes and he didn't copy the whole song (we got the first two pages, he didn't copy page three).

I checked with the person who is in charge of securing the rights to the music we use and here is her advice:

Start with ascap and search the database. Enter song title, composer or anything else you know and some info should pop up. Make sure it's not public domain because then it's free to use. Sometimes you can go to major publishers (Warner/Chappell, EMI, MPL, etc.) and search on their sites to see if they're the publisher. Each publisher has itis own way of doing things but one thing to know is that there is no set rate for securing rights. Basically, you bid. If you've never gotten rights before, you can't use a previous rate as a first offer so you'll probably have to submit all the pertinent show info (type of use, length, live show, vocals, orchestra, movement, venue, ticket price, show dates, etc.). Warner/Chappell has a pretty good form to fill out and send in.

This info is for live performances (grand rights) only. Any rights for CDs, recordings, TV, movies are done through another agency such as Harry Fox. Remember, the price isn't set in stone. We've paid everything from $250.00 to $5,000 for a song. I once got a price down from $10,000 to $250.00 based on the argument of prior rates, non-profit venue, etc.

Hope this helps...


Bear in mind, we're securing the rights for our orchestra to perform the music, not to play the music off of a CD, etc. So you may want to go here for assistance as well.


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Hey, up to the day he died (a couple of years ago), Bobby "Boris" Pickett got a check in the mail every time a radio station played "Monster Mash." And Gene Autry's estate still gets paid when they play "Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer." ;)

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