Tag: licensing

Articles of Interest: January-June 2017

This post highlights articles published in the first half of 2017 with a focus on copyright, especially as it pertains to libraries, higher education, and scholarly communication. Links to the full-text articles are provided when available; [OSU full-text] links will connect authenticated users through The Ohio State University Libraries, while [OA full-text] links point to an open access version of the article that should be available to all users.

Did we miss an interesting article? Please share the citation in the comments!


Clobridge, A. (2017). The ins and outs of open licenses. Online Searcher41(2), 62-65. [OSU full text]

Fernández-Molina, J., Moraes, J. E., & Guimarães, J. C. (2017). Academic libraries and copyright: Do librarians really have the required knowledge? College & Research Libraries78(2), 241-259. doi:10.5860/crl.78.2.241. [OA full text] / [OSU full text]

Harbeson, E. (2017). The Story So Far: Recap and Update on Flo & Eddie. ARSC Journal48(1), 43-49. [OSU full text]

Pike, G. H. (2017). Influence and Independence: Intrigue and the direction of the Copyright Office. Information Today34(1), 21. [OA full text] / [OSU full text]

Wilkin, J. P. (2017). How large is the “Public Domain”? A comparative analysis of Ringer’s 1961 Copyright Renewal Study and HathiTrust CRMS data. College & Research Libraries78(2), 201-218. doi:10.5860/crl.78.2.201. [OA full text] / [OSU full text]

Legislation & Policy Developments

Ayris, P. (2017). Brexit – and its potential impact for open access in the UK. Insights: The UKSG Journal30(1), 4-10. doi:10.1629/uksg.336. [OA full text] / [OSU full text]

Benson, S. R. (2017). Keep copyright in the library: Why the Copyright Office belongs in the Library of Congress. American Libraries48(5), 20. [OA full text] / [OSU full text]

Peet, L. (2017). Experts on next Register of Copyrights. Library Journal142(3), 14-17. [OA full text] / [OSU full text]


Benson, S. R. (2017). Interpreting Fair Use for Academic Librarians: Thinking Beyond the Scope of the Circular 21 Guidelines. Journal of Academic Librarianship43(2), 105-107. doi:10.1016/j.acalib.2017.02.001 [OA full text]

Borchard, L., & Magnuson, L. (2017). Library leadership in open educational resource adoption and affordable learning initiatives. Urban Library Journal23(1), 1-13. [OA full text] / [OSU full text]

Sims, N. (2017). Rights, ethics, accuracy, and open licenses in online collections. College & Research Libraries News78(2), 79-82. [OA full text] / [OSU full text]

Tay Pek, S., Lim Heng, G., Ghani Azmi, I. A., & Sik Cheng, P. (2017). The impact of copyright law on the digitization of library collections in academic libraries in Malaysia. Malaysian Journal Of Library & Information Science22(1), 83-97. [OA full text] / [OSU full text]

Publishing & Scholarly Communication

Badke, W. (2017). Sci-Hub and the researcher. Online Searcher41(2), 56-58. [OSU full text]

Gardner, C. c., & Gardner, G. g. (2017). Fast and Furious (at Publishers): The motivations behind crowdsourced research sharing. College & Research Libraries78(2), 131-149. [OA full text] / [OSU full text]

Myška, M. (2017). Text and data mining of grey literature for the purpose of scientific research. Grey Journal (TGJ)1332-37. [OSU full text]

Rowley, J., Johnson, F., Sbaffi, L., Frass, W., & Devine, E. (2017). Academics’ behaviors and attitudes towards open access publishing in scholarly journals. Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology, 68(5), 1201-1211. doi:10.1002/ASI.23710 [OA full text] / [OSU full text]


By Maria Scheid, Rights Management Specialist at the Copyright Resources Center, The Ohio State University Libraries

Exploring Challenges and Opportunities Surrounding Our Collections of Recorded Student Musical Performances

The OSU Music and Dance Library has a sizable collection of recorded student musical performances encompassing individual students’ recitals and ensemble performances. The collection exists on a variety of media, some of which is deteriorating, is anticipated to deteriorate within the foreseeable future or is in an obsolete format . The Music and Dance Library is working with the Copyright Resources Center to explore options for preserving these artifacts of scholarly and creative activities at The Ohio State University and making them available for research and education.

As part of our initial information gathering, we collaborated with Alan Green and Sean Ferguson at the Music and Dance Library to craft an informal survey that would be sent their colleagues at other institutions on managing rights issues for similar collections. Based on the results of this survey, we found that other institutions are facing the same questions and conundrums and many survey participants indicated that they are also in the early or exploratory stages of developing or implementing plans for managing their collections of recorded student musical performances. While this appears to be an area of interest for many libraries, it will require further development and study within the profession before significant trends and community practices begin to emerge.  Though we are still gathering information, we have a few initial thoughts to share.

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Copyright in the Libraries: Fine Arts Library

Copyright touches many library services because we collect, share and loan original works fixed in a wide variety of tangible media. The Copyright Resources Center conducted a series of informational interviews with faculty and staff from various areas of The OSU Libraries to discuss the ways in which they engage with copyright issues. This blog series documents those conversations, and highlights how copyright law helps to shape services provided by the Libraries. See all available posts in the series here.

Profile photo of Sarah Falls

Sarah Falls, Fine Arts Librarian

Sarah Falls, Assistant Professor, is the Head of the Fine Arts Library at OSU, and as Fine Arts Librarian, Sarah supports the Departments of DesignArt, History of Art, Arts Administration, Education and Policy, and the Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design. I met with Sarah to discuss copyright and the arts, and the unique influence copyright exerts on these particular disciplines.

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Creative Commons Licenses: What You Need to Know as a Creator and User

As one of the major open licensing options for copyright owners, Creative Commons (CC) is likely a familiar name to many of our readers. For those that are unfamiliar, CC is a nonprofit organization that offers a number of different copyright license options to copyright owners. A CC license allows a copyright owner to choose how they would like others to be able to use their work, and anybody may use the work for free, so long as they follow the terms of the license. Before using a CC licensed work or deciding to apply a CC license to your own work, you should have an understanding of the scope of the license you are working with. This blog will provide more information on some important points to keep in mind about CC licenses and provide an overview of the license options.

What Do You Need to Know About Creative Commons Licenses?

Whether you are applying a CC license to your own work or using a work covered by a CC license, here are some important things to keep in mind:

9 million websites use Creative Commons licenses

  1. Creative Commons licenses are not an alternative to copyright—a work must be copyrighted in order to be licensed under a CC license. Copyright owners have a bundle of rights that allow them exclusive control over how their work may be reproduced, adapted, distributed and publicly performed or displayed. A copyright owner may decide to transfer some or all of these rights to another or permit others to use the work through a licensing agreement. If a copyright owner chooses to license their work under a CC license, they are not giving up ownership of their work—they are permitting others to exercise one of the copyright owner’s exclusive rights under the terms and conditions listed in the language of the license.
  1. Creative Commons licenses do not limit or restrict any rights granted through statutory exceptions, including fair use. If your use of a copyright protected work would otherwise be allowed through a statutory exception (such as the face-to-face teaching exception, the TEACH Act, or fair use), you may still rely on those statutory exceptions.
  1. Only the copyright owner can place a CC license on the work or authorize another to do so. If third party material  is being used in a new work under a statutory exception or limitation or through permission of the copyright owner, the author of the new work can only license the part of the work to which they claim ownership. In this type of situation, it is important for the author to mark third party content to let others know that the entire new work may not be available under the selected CC license. An author of a new work may avoid this situation by seeking permission from the copyright owner to make the third party material available under a CC license, allowing others to then use the entire work according to the license terms.
  1. Creative Commons licenses are non-exclusive and non-revocable. Anyone is free to use a CC licensed work so long as they abide by the terms of the license. A copyright owner is also free to continue to exercise their exclusive rights, meaning they may simultaneously enter into separate agreements for the use of their works. A copyright owner may decide to no longer distribute their work under a CC license, but because CC licenses are non-revocable, anybody who already has access to the work may continue to use the work under the original license terms.

What Are the License Options?

Icon badges for all six Creative Commons license options and the Public Domain tool.

Creative Commons licenses provide copyright owners with a great degree of flexibility in how open they would like to make their work. The various license terms define the ways in which users may freely and legally share, modify, or build upon a copyrighted work.

All CC licenses require attribution. Beyond attribution, copyright owners may choose among a combination of licensing terms. Copyright owners may specify that their work not be used for the primary purpose of monetary compensation (NonCommercial) or that their work not be modified or adapted in any way (NoDerivs). Alternatively, a copyright owner may permit a user to modify, adapt, or build upon their work but specify that any new work created be made available under similar open licensing terms (ShareAlike). Creative Commons also provides a Public Domain Dedication (CC0) tool. This tool allows a copyright owner to dedicate their work to the public domain by waiving all of their copyright and related rights in a work, to the extent allowed under the law. While attribution is not required for CC0 works, it is recommended as a best practice in order to acknowledge the intellectual work of others and to avoid accusations of plagiarism.

Spectrum of openness for Creative Commons licensesFinally, if you are looking for CC works to use, a good place to start your search is with the search function on the Creative Commons website. You may also look through the Creative Commons content directories to view organizations and projects using CC licenses. Many services, including Flickr, SoundCloud, Google, Bing, and Vimeo, provide their own advanced search feature, making the search for CC licensed works quick and easy.

In conclusion, CC licenses are a great resource for copyright owners and users of copyrighted content. As with any license agreement, however, be sure you are clear about the scope and limitations of the license before using a protected work or making your own works available for use by others.

Interested in learning more about Creative Commons? Contact the Copyright Resources Center for answers to your questions or to schedule a Creative Commons workshop.


By Maria Scheid, Rights Management Specialist at the Copyright Resources Center, The Ohio State University Libraries

World IP Day 2015 Celebrates Music

On April 26, 1970, the Convention Establishing World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO Convention) entered into force. The event is celebrated annually through the World Intellectual Property Day. The theme for this year’s World IP Day is “Get up, stand up. For music.”

Music plays a critical role in our lives—it is an essential defining element of our culture and society.  And through the changing of technology, consumer preferences, and industry standards, the demand for music has remained.  This past year has seen a lot of activity surrounding music creators and their rights under copyright law. Parties on all sides have questioned our current systems and laws, seeking changes designed to fairly support the value that musicians contribute to our lives and adequately encourage society’s access to and use of music.

Keeping with the theme of this year’s World IP Day 2015, we are highlighting a few out of many interesting and important recent developments and the resulting impact on copyright owners of musical compositions and sound recordings.


The Fair Play, Fair Pay Act of 2015

While musical compositions have long been protected under federal copyright, the inclusion of sound recordings under federal copyright law has been a relatively recent development (sound recordings fixed before February 15, 1972 are still governed by state law). In 1995, through the Digital Performance Right in Sound Recordings Act (DPRSRA), Congress provided copyright owners an exclusive public performance right in their sound recordings, but limited the exclusive right to public performances of sound recordings via digital audio transmission. This limitation means satellite and music subscription services need to pay a licensing fee to perform a sound recording, but terrestrial (AM/FM) radio stations do not. Why the exception for traditional over-the-air broadcasts? In short, Congress didn’t believe radio and television broadcasters posed a threat to copyright owners. Terrestrial radio stations, it has been argued, enjoy a symbiotic relationship with copyright owners. Terrestrial stations play music to increase their listenership and increase advertising revenue and in return create exposure for artists, promoting record and other sales for the sound recording owner.

Introduced in Congress earlier this month, the Fair Play, Fair Pay Act of 2015, H.R. 1733, 114th Cong. (2015) would require terrestrial broadcasters to pay royalties for the public performance of sound recordings, a requirement that is currently only applicable to services that perform a song via digital audio transmission. This public performance right would also extend to sound recordings fixed before February 15, 1972.  Special protections exist for small broadcasters, public broadcasters, college radio, noncommercial radio, and religious services. The bill also includes pieces from the Allocation for Music Producers (AMP) Act, discussed below.

Why it matters: Under the current law, owners of a musical composition (songwriters or music publishers) are compensated if their song is played on terrestrial radio but owners of the sound recording (performing artist or record label) are not. If that same song is transmitted through a service like Pandora, both copyright owners will be compensated. If enacted, the Fair Play, Fair Pay Act of 2015 would result in terrestrial broadcasters operating under the same system that newer digital broadcasters are required to operate under. Overall, this would create more harmonization in copyright law by bringing platform parity to radio and would establish an additional revenue stream for both current artists and older artists.


Local Radio Freedom Act

The Local Radio Freedom Act, a resolution reintroduced into the House and Senate earlier this year, declares that “Congress should not impose any new performance fee, tax, royalty, or other charge” to terrestrial broadcasters for the public performance of sound recordings. The National Association of Broadcasters has backed the resolution, which does not carry the force of law. The resolution highlights the “mutually beneficial relationship between local radio and the recording industry,” in which radio stations have provided publicity and promotion to artists, which has benefitted the careers of many performers. The resolution also cautions the economic hardship local radio stations and small businesses will face at the imposition of any new performance fee.

Why it matters: While artists have thrown a lot of support behind the Fair Play, Fair Pay Act (discussed above), broadcasters believe the Local Radio Freedom Act provides a better solution. The Local Radio Freedom Act, is non-binding, but functions to express the sentiment of Congress. This resolution would preserve the status quo for public performance of sound recordings. There are currently 165 co-sponsors in the House and 12 co-sponsors in the Senate.


Allocation for Music Producers (AMP) Act

Traditionally, record producers have received compensation for their work through the negotiation of a flat fee for their services and/or points (typically 3-4% of the wholesale price of an album). The Allocation for Music Producers (AMP) Act, H.R. 1457, 114th Cong. (2015), introduced in March of this year, would amend copyright law to provide a statutory right for producers, sound engineers, or mixers involved in the creative process of creating the sound recording to receive royalties for the digital transmission of the work.

Current law requires that royalties paid for the public performance of a sound recording by digital audio transmission be split between featured artists (45%), non-featured artists (5%), and sound recording copyright owners (50%). A featured artist may provide a Letter of Direction to SoundExchange, the entity responsible for collecting and distributing such royalties, requesting that a portion of their royalties be paid to the producer. Under the AMP Act, this informal process would be recognized through a statutory amendment.

In addition, the bill creates a new process for setting aside royalties for sound recordings fixed before November 1, 1995. In the absence of a Letter of Direction, SoundExchange may set aside 2% of featured artist royalties to be paid to the producer, mixer, or sound engineer of the relevant sound recording, so long as the artist does not object within a given period of time.

Why it matters: Producers, sound engineers, and mixers play an important role in the creative development of sound recordings. The AMP Acts acknowledges the importance of these individuals in the overall creative process and seeks to establish a permanent procedure by which these professionals can fairly be compensated for their contributions.


Songwriter Equity Act

Re-introduced into both houses on March 4, 2015, the Songwriter Equity Act of 2015 (SEA) would amend Sections 114 and 115 of the Copyright Act to allow the calculation of statutory royalty rates for musical compositions based on fair market value.

The SEA would change the way royalties are calculated for the reproduction of musical compositions. There is currently a compulsory mechanical license for the reproduction of musical compositions. The initial rate set by Congress in 1909 was 2¢ per song. In 2015, it is 9.1¢ per song. The SEA would now allow Copyright Royalty Judges to establish rates that “most clearly represent the rates and terms that would have been negotiated in the marketplace between a willing buyer and a willing seller.” In addition, Judges may now consider the royalty rates set for the public performance of sound recordings in their determination of rates for the public performance of musical compositions.

Why it matters: The intent of this bill, as with the other bills we have discussed, is to even the playing field. By adopting rates that reflect free market conditions, songwriters may receive fair compensation for their works.


Calculation of digital royalties for pre-digital artists

It is difficult to predict how technology will change in the future, as a result, older recording agreements are silent on how to handle payments for digital downloads. The major record labels have historically treated downloads as equivalent to physical sales (meaning artists get 12-20% of net receipt of sales) but artists have argued that digital downloads are more appropriately treated as licenses (meaning the artist would receive 50% of net receipts).

The approach taken by major labels has resulted in major class action lawsuits against Sony, Warner, and Universal. On April 14, 2015, Universal submitted a preliminary settlement of $11.5 million, to be paid to artists signed with UMG or Capitol Records between 1965 and 2004. Universal does not, however, admit wrongdoing in the payment of royalties. Going forward, an increase of 10% has been applied to the royalty rate for digital downloads. Settlements have already been reached in the Sony and Warner Music Group lawsuits.

Why it matters: Compensation. There is a substantial difference in royalty rates between traditional physical sales and licenses. In cases where digital downloads have not been anticipated, it has been up to the court to determine what is just based on the technology of today.

As you can see from just these examples, this past year has been full of activity surrounding music and copyright issues. Following calls for comprehensive copyright reform and talks of a “music omnibus bill” to overhaul the music licensing system, we can expect this important dialogue to continue. Only time will tell how some of these issues will ultimately be resolved and the impact any changes will have on artists, consumers, and facilitators of music.

Interested in learning more about music copyright? Be sure to check out our 4-part series on music copyright: What is music copyright?, Copyright duration for musical compositions and sound recordings, Termination of transfer for music copyright, and Licensing opportunities for music copyright.


By Maria Scheid, Rights Management Specialist at the Copyright Resources Center, The Ohio State University Libraries

Patterns and copyright protections

In the United States, patterns are generally not eligible for copyright protection as copyright does not apply to methods or “procedures for doing, making, or building things.” Additionally, an item created from a pattern also lacks copyright protection if it is considered to be a functional object. Under the Useful Article doctrine in US copyright law, if an object has a practical or useful function, copyright protection applies only to the original, creative elements “that can be identified separately from the utilitarian aspects of an object”, but does not extend to the underlying design of the functional object.

photo of vintage sewing pattern

Photo: Butterick Dress 5579 Instr (c) Allison Marchant, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Here, while the drawing of the dress may be considered a creative expression of the author and therefore eligible for copyright protection, the pattern instructions and any dress made from the pattern would not be protected by copyright.

In the absence of copyright protection for functional objects, a user of a pattern may be able to use whatever she makes from that pattern for any purpose, including selling the items. However, accompanying materials included with the pattern, such as images, may be eligible for copyright protection (see image above). The United States Copyright Office provides the example that while a drawing or photo of a dress may be copyrighted, that does not give the artist the exclusive right to make a dress of that particular design.

Despite this legal landscape, copyright notices and terms of use such as the following are still commonly found on patterns:

“Copyright 2014. All Rights Reserved. Pattern is for personal, non-commercial use only. Selling items made from this pattern is prohibited.”

What does this mean for designers and those wanting to use the pattern? Are the copyright notices and accompanying terms of use legally binding? Some designers believe that the notice they put onto their patterns provides them with legal protection, but because copyright law does not protect the pattern itself, are the terms of use stipulating personal, non-commercial use legally enforceable?

When it comes to what can be done with the final product made from a pattern, there is a conflict between the desires of those who want to use the pattern and those who designed the pattern. With no relevant case law available as a guide, there really are no definitive answers. Despite the lack of legal precedent, those wanting to use patterns and the items made from those patterns should be aware of how they can legally make use of these materials. In the same vein, designers should understand to what extent and how they can protect their work.

The view commonly held by designers is relatively simple: follow the restrictions set in the pattern’s disclaimer. For example, if a knitting pattern you downloaded was accompanied by a disclaimer that read “personal, non-commercial use only” you could make as many items as you wanted using that pattern, but you could not sell any of them because that would constitute a non-personal, commercial use. However, when designers place notices on their patterns, they may be exaggerating copyright protections and licenses. But it is important to remember that even if copyright protection is not available, a user may be agreeing to a license that restricts the way he may use the pattern when he consents to the terms and conditions set by the designer.

Pattern users should be aware of what they are agreeing to when purchasing or downloading a pattern. By clicking a box that reads, “I agree to the terms & conditions”, a user may be entering into a legally binding agreement that can restrict what she may do with the pattern. Under US law, terms that parties consent to in a contract can trump copyright law, leaving designers with possible legal recourse for misuse of a pattern.

Seeking clear legislative guidance and wanting protection for their work, the fashion industry lobbied Congress to create legislation that would protect unique designs. First introduced in 2007, the Innovate Design Protection and Piracy Prohibition Act (IDPPPA) sought to protect designs for a period of three years if registered with the US Copyright Office within three months of being made available to the public. While similar legislation to limit design piracy has been enacted in Europe, India and Japan, legislative progress of the IDPPPA has stalled as of 2014, and patterns are still generally not copyrightable in the United States.

Unless and until moves are made in Congress, answers about copyright protection and designs still lie in a gray area. Whether you are a designer or a user of patterns, it is important to remain informed about your legal rights and understand the possible ramifications that can come along with something as simple as a pattern.


Morgan Cheek is a legal intern at the OSU Libraries’ Copyright Resources Center and is currently a student at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law

Opening the vaults: Organizations make a multitude of digital images available

In an encouraging trend towards lowering barriers for the use of third party materials, some institutions are implementing policies to make portions of their digital collections available for certain uses without requiring permission or payment of a fee.

The Wellcome Library  has applied the Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) license to 100,000 digital images “including manuscripts, paintings, etchings, early photography and advertisements” from their collection of cultural objects related to the history of medicine. Under this license, anyone may freely download, reproduce, distribute, remix, and edit the images for any purpose, including commercial uses, as long as the Wellcome Library is credited as the source.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art announced a new initiative called Open Access for Scholarly Content (OASC) that makes many digital images of public domain materials from the museum’s collection available for scholarly use without requiring fees or additional permissions. Under the museum’s terms and conditions, anyone may download and use images identified as OASC for personal use, educational use, and scholarly publications in all media, such as journal articles, conference presentations, and documentary films. The museum’s Frequently Asked Questions about OASC provide an explanation on what exactly they mean by scholarly content, in what contexts the license applies, and how to find, download and cite images included in OASC.

Portrait of a Woman, possibly Ginevra d'Antonio Lupari Gozzadini from The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Portrait of a Woman, possibly Ginevra d’Antonio Lupari Gozzadini by Maestro delle Storie del Pane
The Metropolitan Museum of Art,
Robert Lehman Collection, 1975

Notably, the Wellcome Library and the Metropolitan Museum of Art initiatives encompass only digital images of those works in their collections that are presumed to be in the public domain. While there is an argument to be made that faithful reproductions of public domain works do not receive a separate copyright and belong to the public domain as well, many institutions implement restrictive policies and leverage licensing fees on reproductions of public domain works. Some institutions make explicit claims to rights, while others disguise the claims in reproduction fees assuming most patrons are unlikely to recognize the difference or object if they do. Applying a Creative Commons license to images, or another free license for clearly defined uses, is a step in the right direction and can reassure scholars, teachers, and students who might otherwise shy away from the cost of paid licenses or not feel confident relying on fair use.

Taking a different approach to licensing content for wider use,  Getty Images unveiled a new “embed feature” that allows users to add select images from the Getty Images stock photography collections to websites and social media posts with no further permission or fees necessary. Users obtain a snippet of HTML code which they may use to share the image elsewhere on the web via an “embedded viewer” (see: the instructions for use from Getty Images). The content must remain on Getty Images’ servers and cannot be edited or resized.* The embedded viewer enables Getty Images to gather data about embedded content on users’ sites and monetize images by placing advertisements through the embedded viewer. Furthermore, the embedded viewer may only be used for the purposes detailed in the terms and conditions. Users may embed images for editorial purposes, “meaning relating to events that are newsworthy or of public interest,” but not for commercial purposes. This would likely include many noncommercial, educational purposes.

The available content and the approach to sharing by Getty Images are distinct from those of Wellcome Trust and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in a few key ways. First, Getty Images is licensing the use of more obviously copyrighted works, as compared to the reproductions of public domain materials made available by the other two organizations. Secondly, the material from Getty Images is only available for online use; presentations, print materials, and other offline uses are not covered by this license. The online-only presence also enables Getty Images to remove content at their discretion and without warning, as detailed in their terms of use. Images downloaded under the terms set by the Wellcome Trust or the Metropolitan Museum of Art may be used continually under the terms of those licenses. However, users should always review the current terms and conditions for any provider and the current availability of a particular image before any new use, as online content is frequently subject to change.

Overall, these licensing options provide more opportunities for the public to use material that might otherwise be restricted by fees or ambiguous rights. As always, be sure that you read, understand, and save a copy of the license terms before moving forward. If you have any questions about making use of the new licensing options for these institutions or navigating copyright for another use of third party images, please contact the University Libraries’ Copyright Resources Center.  Our guide to copyright and using images also provides more information on this topic in general.

*Note: I intended to include images in this post from each of the licensed collections under discussion, but Getty Images’ embed code does not seem to function with our blog layout, and the licensing terms prevent me from fixing it by tinkering with the code.

By Jessica Meindertsma, Rights Management Specialist at the Copyright Resources Center, The Ohio State University Libraries

Licensing opportunities for music copyright

This is the fourth of a 4-part series on issues in music copyright. Part 4 will provide an overview of the different licensing opportunities available for musical compositions and sound recordings.

Authors of musical works may use their works for their own benefit or they may instead, or additionally, allow third parties to use their works via a license. In many instances a copyright owner will negotiate a direct license with a licensee, with both parties mutually agreeing upon term and conditions, including the payment of a fee for the use of the work. This is known as a voluntary license. In other instances, Congress has determined certain conditions under which a work can be used and has set a fee by law (“statutory rate”). This is known as a compulsory license. The available licensing scheme will depend on which copyright the licensee is seeking to use (musical composition or sound recording) and how the licensee intends to use that work.

Voluntary Licenses: There are a number of different situations in which a license must be negotiated between parties. These situations include:

  • Reproduction and distribution: To reproduce and distribute a sound recording, a master recording license must be obtained from the copyright holder. To use the underlying musical composition, a compulsory mechanical license must be secured, as discussed below.
  • Reproduction in audiovisual works: If you want to use a sound recording in a visual work, such as a commercial or movie, a master recording license must be obtained from the copyright holder. To use the underlying musical composition, a separate synchronization license must be obtained from the copyright holder.
  • Public performance: If you would like publicly perform a work, you must secure a license for the musical composition, and if applicable, the sound recording. For larger music users, such as radio stations or restaurants, it is typical to secure a blanket license from a performance rights organizations (the major organizations being ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC). Performance rights organizations (PROs) enter into agreements with publishers to license out all of the publisher’s songs. Individuals or organizations who negotiate a blanket license with the PRO are permitted to publicly perform any song within the PRO’s collection. The fee for this use will be negotiated between the parties and will vary according to the scope of the use and the nature of the entity using the works.

As we discussed in part 1 of this series, you only need to secure permission to use a sound recording if the recording is being transmitted to the public through digital means. For digital audio transmissions that are interactive, such as Youtube, a voluntary license must be negotiated with the sound recording copyright owner for a master recording license. For digital audio transmissions that are non-interactive, such as Sirius XM or digital cable or satellite television services, a compulsory license is in place, as we will discuss below.

  • Print rights: To print sheet music of a musical composition, a license must first be negotiated between the parties. Print rights can cover both physical printing and digital printing, with digital print rights being nonexclusive.

Compulsory Licenses: There are a number of licenses that are compulsory, meaning that the copyright owner must issue a license to a person seeking to use the work. These licenses include:

  • Cable television rebroadcast: Local broadcasting stations must allow cable companies to re-transmit their signals, for a set fee.
  • Public broadcasting system: Copyright owners must license the use of their published nondramatic musical works and published pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works in connection with noncommercial broadcasting.
  • Digital performance of records: Copyright owners of sound recordings must allow performance of their recording if used in a noninteractive digital audio transmission. The four categories of works generally covered by this compulsory license are: eligible nonsubscription services, preexisting subscription services, new subscription services, and preexisting satellite digital audio radio services. Like the PROs mentioned above for public performance rights of musical compositions, SoundExchange is the organization that handles licensing for digital audio transmissions that fall within one of the four categories listed above.
  • Phonorecords and digital downloads of nondramatic musical compositions: Once a non-dramatic musical work has been recorded and released to the public through a phonorecord (e.g. CD, audio DVD, MP3, record), the owner of the musical composition copyright must license use of the composition to anyone who wants to use it in a phonorecord, so long as the licensee does not change the basic melody or fundamental character of the song. This is known as a compulsory mechanical license. Many publishers handle their mechanical licenses through the Harry Fox Agency. In the event that the original work did not meet the requirements for a compulsory mechanical license (e.g. the work was not released to the public, the work was a dramatic musical work, etc.), a voluntary license must be negotiated with the copyright owner.

The compulsory mechanical license is tied to the statutory rate, meaning there is a minimum fee set by law that the licensee must pay for use of the work. Currently, the statutory rate for songs up to 5 minutes in length is 9.1¢ per song per unit. For songs that are greater than 5 minutes in length, the statutory rate is 1.75¢ per minute of playing time, or a fraction thereof, per unit. If, for example you wanted to make a 3-minute recording of a copyright protected song, and distribute 500 copies of your cover, you would need to pay $45.50 for the original composition ($0.091 X 500). If you wanted to make a recording that is 7 minutes and 15 seconds long, with 500 copies distributed, your rate would equal  $70 ($0.0175 X 8= $0.14. $0.14 X 500= $70).

The new media rights of ringtones and permanent digital download are also subject to a compulsory mechanical license. While permanent digital downloads follow the same statutory rates as physical products (9.1¢ or 1.75¢ per minute of playing time or a fraction thereof), ringtones follow a different rate. Non-derivative uses for ringtones are set at 24¢.

This blog has laid out some of the possible revenue streams for musical compositions and sound recordings by mentioning the different situations in which a license must be secured for use of the copyrighted work. This concludes our 4-part series on music copyright.


Maria Scheid is a graduate of The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law and former legal intern at the Copyright Resources Center at OSU Libraries

Brown Bag on Creative Commons Licensing

Next up for Open Access Week on Wednesday, October 20:  A brown bag at Knowlton School of Architecture, 275 W. Woodruff Ave., Room 258, from noon-1:00 p.m. when Melanie Schlosser will speak on Creative Commons licensing.

Creative Commons licenses allow a copyright holder to keep his or her copyright but allow copying and distribution of the work within parameters the rights holder specifies.