Bad PR: Chorus concert copyright restrictions

One of the local school districts here in Iowa had an all-elementary-school chorus concert on Friday. At the beginning, the audience was told

Please turn your cell phones off. Please do not use flash photography; we don’t want to startle any of the participants. And no videotaping, please, because of copyright restrictions.

Not safety or privacy or confidentiality considerations. Copyright restrictions.

270 shining little faces on stage, ready to perform. A packed auditorium full of parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, and family friends. And the deflating message that they get, mere seconds before their children begin to sing in their dulcet voices, is:

Hi, John Q. Public. Thanks for slogging your kid to school, even in the rain and snow, every Wednesday at 7:30am all year for chorus practice. Thanks for getting your kid all gussied up for this huge event. We know that your precious angel is up on stage getting ready to sing his or her heart out. We know that the whole extended family is here to support that little boy or girl. But even though your heart is just bursting at the seams to capture the joy and excitement of this experience and share it with your child and your loved ones, we’d like to invoke ‘copyright protections’ so, too bad, you can’t do that. Have a good concert!

What a slap in the face. And we wonder why the public doesn’t support school bond referenda…

11 Responses to “Bad PR: Chorus concert copyright restrictions”

  1. Copyright on what? That’s crazy! I’m assuming the school taped it and wants to sell it or something…? That’s really too bad. I’ve never heard of that before! Choose a different song then. Sorry Scott.

  2. For musical theater productions, the school does sign a contract that says no videotaping. I’m not sure what songs they were singing in the chorus of if that’s the case here.

  3. Now that a music teacher has been vilified… The copyright law says that you can make recordings, but you must pay for a different license (citation below). When a school purchases music, they purchase the rights to perform the songs and not record them. The previous post is also correct, if it is a musical, in the contract there is a clause that states it can’t be recorded.

    Although I can see the perception of a public relation problem with parents, I could imagine the school district having to pay a copyright infringement fine might be worse.


    Yes, but you must contact the copyright owner and obtain a “mechanical license.” You will be charged a fee, the amount of which is determined by the “statutory rate” as set forth in the Copyright Law. This includes recordings of church services, concerts, musicals, or any programs that include copyrighted music.”


  4. I agree that maybe it is extreme, but thinking about a post that I read from David Pogue a while back….what about having parents and others just WATCH a performance and appreciate their kids and their talents instead of having to capture every single moment on video that chance are, they will watch once and never watch again. I wonder if we are so busy trying to record our reality that we are not fully enjoying our reality?

    My memory and my reminiciing are stronger and more enjoyable than an mp4 can ever be.

  5. @Barry Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I’m glad that your memory’s staying strong. Mine’s starting to fade (either that or my brain is full and spillage is starting to occur). I also enjoy those old home movies of my childhood that my parents and grandparents made. And recording is good for those family members (grandparents again!) that can’t be there. So lots of reasons why you might record. That said, I don’t think we all need to be carrying around personal life recorders either!

    @Terry @Mathew Thanks for the clarification. Even we attorneys need help now and then…

    1) I didn’t mean to vilify the music teacher(s). They were great. They weren’t the ones that made the announcement.

    2) As I read both the link and what you wrote, it reads to me like the sponsoring organization can’t record the song(s)? But what about the public at a public event? For example, are organizations making these kinds of announcements at (a) church youth choir performances, (b) football game marching band performances, (c) the annual orchestra performance in the park, and/or (d) musical performances at the Rose Bowl parade (just to mention a few)? I’m not sure they are, nor am I sure that they could do so.

    Clearly I don’t know enough about this. Right now I only know enough to be dangerously opinionated. It just reeks of wrongness to me (the guy in front of me too; he said, ‘copyright my ass!’). I’ll try to follow up and see what I can find out.

    Thanks, everyone! Getting feedback is one of the great things about blogging!

  6. Can I add another wrinkle? The students in making the performance are also creating content that has intellectual property rights. Aimee Bissonette discussed this with me in the last third of “It’s Elementary” ( Might be interesting to her take on it.

  7. Hi Scott,

    I don’t see how the school could be held responsible for others videotaping the event. Making such an announcement might prove establish “due diligence” were the school to be sued by a music copyright holder, but I would think that a statement in the bulletin that “videotaping this event may be interpreted as a violation of copyright laws” gets at the same thing and leaves the responsibility for the legality of the taping on the individual actually doing so.

    To me, making a recording for personal use of a kids concert with no intention of reselling the materials is fair use. And as you suggest, this needs to be balanced with the image the school has as well.

    We are very much in need of more “user-centric” guidelines to the use of copyrighted materials. As it stand we are making scofflaws of the majority of our citizens.

    Great post,


  8. I should have put a “crabby” warning on my post yesterday–referring to vilification. I am a music teacher and have been misunderstood many times in my 20 years of teaching.

    I personally would not be the person who tells people at a concert to shut off the video cameras. I don’t believe the school has a responsibility to be the keeper of the copyright. I HAVE, on the other hand, warned against taping musicals (with a note in the program) because the contract is explicit that it can’t be allowed.

    I don’t know what the motivation was for the person who said not to videotape, but I am guessing that it wasn’t to deny parents the right to record the performance for posterity. I would suggest that the person who gave the warning be contacted. Perhaps there is a sensible reason (other than greed- as was suggested in a post) for not allowing it? In past circumstances, I would have liked to be given that courtesy.

  9. This is interesting. I wonder if the school had copyright clearance on the music they were singing. Perhaps they were covering for that.

  10. It’s possible that they cribbed illegal copies of the music off some Internet or photocopied source, and didn’t want to publicize it. Or, they’re douchebags.

  11. Is copyright law somehow the school’s “fault” now?

    I’m ignorant of the cases that may warrant the warning, but on the surface, it seems consistent with what I’ve read and heard. Recording the performance of a work isn’t allowed.

    That’s why we don’t podcast recorded performances online.

    Even as a musician, I don’t necessarily agree with the spirit of copyright to restrict mom and dad from filming junior at the concert. My parents did it. We used cassette. Later VHS. Finally, Hi-8. Big deal, you think.

    But the law isn’t the the schools blame. As with so much else in life, they’re covering butts. I can’t really blame them for that.

    What would be more interesting is what happens if you violate this concert policy? No one cares? Or booted out by police?

    In an age where last night’s concert can appear on YouTube, I think there is cause for concern. But I’d also be interested to know if any composers or arrangers or publishers of music for school-age children has sued for infringements of personal recordings for private use?

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