Music Isn’t Free: A Flaw in Parts of “Mormon Culture”

I have a teenage son who plays cello pretty well. He and a few friends in a quartet are often invited to perform at local events such as open houses, weddings, and business socials, often thanks to a kind mentor who helps them get booked. He almost always comes home with a check. This week, for example, he got a $100 check for a couple hours spent at a celebration for a new business in town. I’m proud of his talents, and also proud of the fact that he chooses to invest his earnings (that pre-tithing $100 this week, for example, just became $110 since we invested it in a mix of silver and Celgene stock, both up nicely and likely to keep going up for a long time). And I’m proud of folks out here in Wisconsin, who value music and musicians. They recognize that good music isn’t free.

Sadly, too many members of the Church steeped in Mormon heritage don’t appreciate the value of music – in terms of monetary value, that is. This is manifest in two ways. First, there is a distressing tendency of some to violate copyright laws for the music used by choirs such as stake choirs, a crime that puts the entire Church at jeopardy and must be stopped. Stamp this crime out wherever you see it! Second, there is an expectation that talented LDS musicians can be called upon to share their talents for free at various events outside of their Church callings. For example, one talented musician from Utah noted that she was often asked to perform at weddings and other events without compensation. Folks, if you are asking a musician to perform for your benefit, that shouldn’t be free (unless they choose to offer that as a gift or are family members just doing their part). There are going rates for such professional services. If you have exploited musicians in the past for weddings or other events, it’s not to late to make restitution for your offense.

And if you have made illegal copies of music for choirs or other events, you can still contact the publisher and pay for it after the fact. But theft of this nature is ugly and flies in the face of Gospel teachings.


Author: Jeff Lindsay

25 thoughts on “Music Isn’t Free: A Flaw in Parts of “Mormon Culture”

  1. How does ‘making (music) copies is illegal’ jive with your last column (‘brought me a photocopy of an article ‘)?

  2. I was so pleased to see someone take a position advocating honesty in observing copyright laws, as well as urging fairness to those who are often asked to perform free.

    At one time, when I was living in Latin America, I joined a women’s choir that sang secular and religious choral music. Although it was sponsored by one of the American churches, membership in the choir was open to anyone. They had hired a fine director from the music department of one of the local colleges, and after the first rehearsal, I decided I would enjoy singing with them, and paid my membership fee. We were preparing for a public performance in a few months.

    However, during the second rehearsal they passed out more music, and I realized that almost all the music we were going to perform was photocopied. I was very nervous about approaching the organizer with whom I had first established contact with my question, because she was the wife of a protestant pastor. However, I thought there was a slim chance that they might have made arrangements with the publishers; and if they hadn’t, I was too bothered by the issue to let it slide.

    I spoke privately with the pastor’s wife after the rehearsal. She indicated that it was very difficult to get music from the States because of the problems with the local mail system, customs, etc. I fully agreed, but also mentioned that the publishers could be contacted, and a fee per copy could be sent to them. Choir members were already paying the director’s fee, and enough extra to cover copying the music, and providing light refreshments for rehearsals. She hemmed and hawed a bit, suggesting that the extra cost could be a problem. She finally said she would mention the issue to the others on the organizing committee, and they would consider it.

    It became abundantly clear which way the wind was blowing. A few days later I called her to say that I wouldn’t be able to join the choir.

  3. Anon, I’m not sure I grasp where you are coming from. It’s possible that the article a colleague brought me was improperly copied, but probably fell within the scope of the fair use doctrine. Fortunately, Reader’s Digest has made that very article available for free on the Internet – see the link in the previous article. Limited copying of portions of many printed publications can be done under a variety of circumstances (though there is far too much abuse in this area as well – Texas Instruments got slapped with a $1 million fine recently for unjustified photofopying of scientific journals). In contrast, any photocopying of music is usually strictly forbidden unless explicitly approved.

    Letting me read an article from the printed magazine that she purchased and that’s already free on the Internet did not deprive Reader’s Digest of any revenues, but making copies of music for choir members who should purchase the music is much more clearly a form a theft.

  4. I’m also a cellist, and I agree with everything you said. Jeff, I think you should, in your abundant spare time of course, start an investing blog. I’m always intrigued by the snippets you sometimes include on investing. I’ve been making plans to start one of my own but haven’t gotten around to it.

  5. Maybe I’m just unfairly promoting a stereotype, but it seems to me that many of our faith like to get “something for nothing.”

    My mother was an interior decorator and was always asked for free “advice” on members’ homes and decor – even wedding receptions. She lamented the fact that many Mormons scoffed at paying for a consultation, yet would come begging for help after they paid thousands of dollars on furniture or accesories that they ultimately weren’t happy with.

    As Latter-Day Saints, we are rightly admonished to be frugal – but we should not be so at the expense of others.

  6. I agree that we need to stop the practice of copying music without permission or without paying for it. I’m not convinced this is particularly an LDS problem though, but I don’t have anything else to compare it with since I don’t participate in choirs for other churches. However, the copying of recorded music (.mp3s) is definitely rampant everywhere. This definitely doesn’t excuse us though.
    On the matter of paying performers — I agree that people should be paid. However, part of the problem is that performers agree to play for free. If LDS musicians came to a consensus that people should pay for their performances, I think people would still pay to have live music.

  7. I play for funerals/weddings etc. A simple funeral will cost you $50. Thats for a funeral that is 1/2 hour. So you could say that I earn $100 per hour. However that does not figure in that I prepare and drive to the Funeral home, practice special music ahead of time etc.

    From when I get my suit on, leave the house, do the funeral and get home I have 2 1/2 to 3 hours in.

  8. Maybe I’m just unfairly promoting a stereotype, but it seems to me that many of our faith like to get “something for nothing.”

    I think everyone likes something for nothing (hence the popularity of the lottery), but I digress.

    I think you should atleast offer to pay people for their services in a funeral, wedding, etc. and give them the chance to turn it down if they want to do it for free.

    In reading this I can not help but to think of my mother. SHe majored in interior design at BYU, and is often called upon by people in the church to help them with any number of events. When I was in my late teens she would often get burned out because she had to take care of 4 boys, my Dad, and do these things fairly often. What is most ironic for me is that these same people to this day (she still helps out), when they go out to have fun, never include my Mother. When she asked about it once to her friend, the friend replied that she did not think my mother liked to do those sort of things, as if my mom only got a hoot from arrangeing flowers, picking out decorations, and using a color wheel!

  9. Here, here on the films/videos–I’ve seen folks do it myself (upon which I promptly left)

  10. I totally agree with what has been said thus far about photocopying and I have tried over the years to be vigilant about this. I do have a concern though and that is when I go to a music store to purchase 3 copies of a piece of music and they won’t order it unless I order 10 copies and it will take six weeks to arrive! Music companies need to make their music avaliable on the internet so that we can make copies….for a price and we can have instant access to it. I am happy to pay, I just want to be able to use it when I want. How often have you been asked to put a trio together in a week? They just need to make it easier to use and easier to have access to it.

  11. Anonymous—- they will overnight music to you in an emergency. Otherwise it just takes a couple days.

    Our Stake has a reputation for music theft. Last year the Stake presidency (Plus their clerk) sang a quartet. Two of them had legal music, two had illegal copies.

  12. wow… i had no idea that photocopying music was illegal, if no money is being made by those who perform. i can definitely see that if you use someone else’s music in a live setting and are paid for it, the author deserves compensation, but i figured for “unpaid” services it was a non-issue.

    who’d’a thunk? not me…

  13. There are numerous pieces of music in the LDS hymnal that individual church groups are permitted to copy for incidental, non-commercial use. There are also some good suggestions in the back of the hymnal on adapting them for small groups and other situations.

  14. Anonymous, when someone writes a song, that song is automatically copyrighted (even if the songwriter never registers a copyright or affixes a copyright notice). The copyright means that the creator has the right to exclude others from copying it. (It also gives him some rights as to performances of the song, but there’s a system of automatic licensing for performances in commercial settings.) As to making copies of the words and music, the author can set his own terms on what’s allowed. If he wants to just let anyone copy it as much as they want, he can make that choice. If he wants to let people copy it in a limited way for specific purposes, he can do that. He can decide how much he wants to charge for each copy made. It’s the making of copies that’s the issue here, not the way the copies are later used.

  15. Music companies need to make their music avaliable on the internet so that we can make copies.

    I don’t know if it’s OK to refer to specific companies here, but I have downloaded sheet music from Musicnotes. The cost isn’t much different than what you’d pay in a music store, but it is quick and convenient (once you can get your software and printer configured right), and there’s a huge selection.

    And thanks for your comments, Jeff. As someone who makes a living as a writer and editor, I know firsthand the effect that theft of intellectual property can have.

  16. I’ve seen at least one music company that made its works available online and handled the licensing fees through the separate purchase of stickers. You buy stickers for a few cents each, and then anything you download, print and copy has a space on it for the sticker. It carries a notice that without the sticker, it’s an unauthorized and illegal copy. You put the purchased sticker on, and you’re good to go. Smart system, in my view.

  17. I have been taught where I live that there is a clause that if you have bought one peice of music you can copy that piece of music once. In our ward we will by x number of music and then copies can be made of each of those. This is done stake wide, and the copies are all kept with the originals. Our Stake also now keeps all the music for the Stake at The Stake Center Library so all wards can have access to the music. It is kept in each wards file, so the ward that purchased the music can have first choice of the music. The ward music chairman or the choir director checks the music out and then will be responsible to turn the music in. There is a log of all the music in the Stake, that way purchases aren’t made for music already available.

  18. Tigersue, unless you live outside the USA, there can’t be any such clause, because a state law can’t pre-empt the federal Copyright Act, and the federal law gives no “one copy” privilege to purchasers of music.

  19. I do not know the North American laws, but in many European countries (spain for example) or Latin Americans, it is not illegal the music copy, scores, photocopies copy, etc, if it is not with purposes of profit.

    In spain the people pay a compensatory canon for copying music with copyright, and in Chile the law specifies clearly that prohibe music, television copy or to reproduce, etc, if it is done by purposes of profit (Law 17336 of ” Intellectual Property ” article 66) And it allows inclusive the execution of works with copyright in schools, churches, homes, etc always and when it is not with purposes of profit and in whose cases the law allows to make it without remunerating the author nor obtain his necesity of authorization.(article 47)

    The majority of the countries of the world possess laws similar to these.

    The prosecuted for the law is to enrich of the works with copyright.

  20. You might try, they offer lots of great sheet music from popular lds artists like Roger Hoffman, Michael Dowdle, Jessie Clark Funk, Marvin Goldstein, and others.

  21. I totally agree with your criticisms of those who violate copyright laws. It is a widespread problem in ward level music.

    However, I was disgusted to read that professional musicians expect to get paid to help in any capacity at church. The arrogance and self-centeredness that is rampant among professional musicians has no place within the body of Saints. Charging to sing at a reception only has place in a church with paid clergy, not in the true church of Christ.

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