Dad, May I Borrow the Car?

By Brian Taylor Goldstein, Esq.

Dear Law and Disorder: May we borrow music for an orchestral performance from another organization that purchased this music, but is currently not using it?

When you write that the other organization “purchased this music”, do you mean that they actually purchased all performance rights to the music or merely purchased the score and parts? Did they actually purchase the score and parts or merely rent them?

When it comes to copyrights and performance rights, “physical” possession of an artistic work does not inherently include any rights to the work other than the right to own it and possess it. For example, when you purchase a copy of Harry Potter, you get the right to read it, enjoy it, and place it on your bookshelf. If you like, you can even lend it to a friend or sell your used copy at a flea market. However, purchasing a copy of the book does not give you the right to perform it, interpret it dramatically, make a movie out it, copy and re-print excerpts, or do anything other than enjoy it. Similarly, when you purchase a painting from a gallery, you are purchasing the right to hang it on your wall and enjoy it. Like a book, you can also lend it to a friend or museum, or even re-sell it—but you do not have the right to make copies of it, alter it, post images on your website, use it as your logo, or do anything other than look at it. Those rights must be obtained separately.

Purchasing music works much the same way. The physical ownership of sheet music does not also give you the rights to perform it. Those rights must be obtained separately from the composer or publisher—or, if the composer is a member of a performing rights society (ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC) then you can obtain licenses through the society. So, in your scenario, assuming the other organization purchased the score and parts, then they have the right to loan you the music, but if you want to perform it, then you will need to obtain your own performance rights and licenses. Assuming they only rented the score and parts, then they don’t have the right to loan it to you in the first place. That would be like an illegal sub-let.

Borrowing music is like borrowing a car. First, you have to make sure that the person loaning you the car actually has the right to loan it to you in the first place. (Just because they have the keys, doesn’t mean they own the car.) Second, even if you are allowed to borrow the car, if you want to drive it, you’ll still have to pay for your own gas.

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For additional information and resources on this and other legal and business issues for the performing arts, visit ggartslaw.com

To ask your own question, write to lawanddisorder@musicalamerica.org.

All questions on any topic related to legal and business issues will be welcome. However, please post only general questions or hypotheticals. GG Arts Law reserves the right to alter, edit or, amend questions to focus on specific issues or to avoid names, circumstances, or any information that could be used to identify or embarrass a specific individual or organization. All questions will be posted anonymously.

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THE OFFICIAL DISCLAIMER:

THIS IS NOT LEGAL ADVICE!

The purpose of this blog is to provide general advice and guidance, not legal advice. Please consult with an attorney familiar with your specific circumstances, facts, challenges, medications, psychiatric disorders, past-lives, karmic debt, and anything else that may impact your situation before drawing any conclusions, deciding upon a course of action, sending a nasty email, filing a lawsuit, or doing anything rash!

Tags: ascap, bmi, Brian Taylor, composer, copyright, Copyrights, excerpts, Goldstein, images, license, music, orchestra, orchestral performance, ownership, performance rights, performing rights society, physical possession, purchasing music, sesac, sheet music

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