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Copyright Laws for Music Teachers

What you need to know when using music as part of your music teaching practice.

Last updated: 08 October 2021

With students using the web as a resource for often illegal transcriptions and tablature, many teachers face a dilemma when asked by a pupil to teach them a favourite piece.

Music copyright is a form of intellectual property that allows a person to own the music they create, and prevents others from copying or reproducing the work without permission.

If you write any of your own original teaching material you own the copyright to the content. An exception applies if the work was created in the course of your employment for an educational establishment, in which case the copyright remains with the employer unless your contract states otherwise.

For copyright guidance covering educational purposes please see the advice on the UK Government website.

Using photocopies of sheet music for educational purposes

In school

Making copies of sheet music for use in lessons will require a licence from the Copyright Licensing Agency. Most organisations will have already obtained a collective licence that covers photocopying for teaching purposes, however you should always check. If there is no licence available, the teacher is not able to copy more than 1% of any work in any one quarter of the year.

Self-employed teachers

Copying a copyright-protected work, even if only for private use, without obtaining a licence from the copyright holder is an infringement of the law. Contact the copyright owner or their publisher to apply for permission; you’ll need to do this for each work you intend to reproduce and for each occasion the material is used.

Beware of downloading sheet music from illegal websites. These infringe copyright and you should avoid using this material for teaching.

Students performing copyright works in a public concert

If pupils are performing to teachers and pupils in a school assembly or concert then no special licence is required for a copyright work. If the concert can be described as a ‘public performance’, for example if parents and other guests are in the audience, then you’ll need to obtain a licence beforehand. Check with your organisation as to whether it has a blanket licence in place for public performances.

Licence to use a recording of a radio or TV broadcast for educational purposes

In school

You will require a licence to use recordings of broadcasts for educational purposes. Many organisations already have a licence from the Educational Recording Agency (ERA). You can check your organisation’s licensing status on ERA website

Self-employed teachers

Recording constitutes a form of copying and you’ll need a licence from the copyright holder.

Arranging and samples

An arrangement is a re-shaping of a melody or complete work that adds, alters or removes musical aspects such as harmony, rhythm or instrumentation. Before making an arrangement of a piece of music, you should check its copyright status and if required, seek permission from the copyright owner.

Licensing when arranging music

You will need to obtain permissions if you wish to use a pre-existing piece of music for the following reasons:

  • Changing the instrumentation
  • Making an arrangement of the work, altering it in any way
  • Using the arrangement in a performance, even if it is for a free performance
  • Recording the arrangement for commercial or non-commercial product release (eg. on a CD, as an mp3, on a vinyl record)
  • Printing the arrangement for commercial sale (either physically or digitally)

You will not require a licence if the arrangement is purely for private study, but when using arrangements as a teaching tool you should always check the copyright status ahead of arranging the piece.

Use of samples

If you wish to use a sample of an existing piece of music, the copyright must be cleared with the original copyright owner, no matter how small the sample.

How to contact a copyright owner

Organisations such as the PRS for Music or the MPA will generally help you to:

  • Find out who controls the copyright in a work and
  • Obtain contact details for the copyright owners

Useful resources

•    The Copyright Licensing Agency
•    The PRS for Music
•    The PPL
•    The Educational Recording Agency

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