Copyright Law: Make Sure Your Music is LEGAL!

Texas Instrument a few years ago was sued for the practice among its engineers of making photocopies of journal articles. They paid over $1 million, as I recall, for their abuse of copyright law. At least a few people had gone way beyond the limits of fair use doctrines. The restrictions on music tend to be more even severe than published journals. Latter-day Saints, please don’t make illegal copies of music!

I would like to remind all LDS people that we are under a moral obligation to be honest. Making photocopies of copyrighted works of music can be a serious violation of the law as well as the LDS standard of honesty. It rips off music companies – it’s simple theft. If your choir needs 10 copies of a piece, BUY ten copies. Maybe a few more to handle emergencies. If your group shows up for the performance and several have forgotten or lost their music, you are generally not allowed to make an emergency copy. It’s better to postpone a performance and be honest than to cheat, in my opinion. If you cheat, maybe you’ll have entertained a few people – while putting the entire Church at risk. The law can inflict punishments much greater than you might think. Be careful, and be honest.

If you are aware of potential copyright violations, please realize that those involved probably acted out of ignorance. I don’t mean to be too judgmental of those who act in good faith but poor judgment. It’s so easy to not think before photocopying. Talk to the offenders privately, remind them of the law and of the moral issues involved, and surely they will shape up. But if not, Church leaders should be alerted of the problem so they can act to correct it. And I think it would be wise for bishops to occasionally check and make sure that the unit is careful in observing copyright law for music and other materials.


Author: Jeff Lindsay

8 thoughts on “Copyright Law: Make Sure Your Music is LEGAL!

  1. Thanks for reminding us of this important issue, Jeff. I’m proud to say that not one of the 2,219 MP3 files on my iPod was photocopied.

  2. You use the example of people leaving their music at home, so they make “emergency” copies. You are correct in stating that is wrong. When people stand in front and hold xeroxed music they are giving approval of doing so.

    Last weekend our Stake Presidency sang at a Ward conference. Two of them were using Xerox copies. People noticed. Next time we tell people they cannot do that they will cite the example of the Stake doing it—-and that it is okay.

    PLEASE—–avoid the appearance of evil.

    Is it evil to use Xeroxed music in Sacrament meeting. YES—-would you steal bread to prepare the sacrament. As Jeff said—some do not understand it is wrong. we need training.

    If music is out of print—you can secure permission from the music company to make copies. They will send you a sticker to place on each piece of music. Then the music MUST be destroyed when it is done being used. The cost is higher than the price of music to make a copy.

  3. That’s why every ward house should have a projector. Instead of begging for a budget to buy several copies of choir music, just buy one copy and project it on a screen so every choir member can reference the same copy.

  4. Some music publishers do allow their music to be photocopied for “incidental use”- so if someone in the choir has photocopied music, they aren’t necessarily a criminal.

  5. Wait a second. There is nothing immoral about using copies. Sorry, but your notion that reading from “xeroxes” gives the appearance of immorality is patently absurd.

    I realize that I am talking to a group that values appearances over substance. Copyright law is not about a medium. It is about giving authors a limited ability to control the presentation of their work for a limited time.

    My guess is that 99% of photocopies are fair and legal. They are only “illegal” when you don’t have the rights to copy the things you are copying. This legality is based on a system that is trying to balance the needs of the individual with that of the creator of a work.

    If I have the rights, or if the works are public domain, then I have the rights to photocopy to my hearts content. If I desired I could post a complete copy of Smith’s original translation of the BoM or the Doctrine and Covenants on my web site because they are public domain.

    You can copy and distribute most traditional hymns without fear of copyright violation.

    Oddly, though, even if everyone in the choir had a leather bound copy of a song, they may not have the right to sing the song, Even though you have the appearance of propriety. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir would be violating copying if they sang “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” if they did not buy performance rights. Every member of the choir could be holding purchased sheet music. They would still be violating Cyndi Lauper’s copyright if they sang the song at the annual Christmas concert.

    The ideals of the US is that the substance of the law is more important than the appearance of the people. We tend to fall short of the ideal.

    Regardless, there is nothing immoral about photocopies.

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