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Copyright and playing music to students

I teach high school choral and often times want to play an example of a choral performance for my students. Is there an issue if I play music that I have purchased or acquired from sources ( college choir recordings, profession recordings donated). I have been told since they were not purchased by the district then I don't have the legal right to play them. Thanks for the help and sources if possible!
Replies (3): Threaded | Chronological
on January 24, 2013 3:51pm
Hi, Nathan.  I could easily be wrong, but I believe the opposite it true.  You may play any legal recording for classroom use that you yourself own.  What you can not do is use any such recordings in a commercial way (i.e. as background music, to broadcast past your own classroom or on-line class, etc.).
But I'm sure that others will know more about this in detail than I do.  We went through a similar but different argument a couple of years ago over whether a SET of recordings, legally purchased by the university, could be streamed on line for students in a particular class so they would not have to buy individual copies of the sets.  The librarian who did the research found that some schools did exactly that and restricted access by password, others did not allow ANYTHING to be streamed, and still others were putting everything they owned on line without any restrictions at all.  So it definitely isn't settled law at this point.
All the best,
on January 25, 2013 6:03am
There are a couple of books that address this type of question, that I have found very helpful. One is  The Teachers Guide to Music, Media, and Copyright Law.  The author (James Frankel) gets into what you can do in your classroom, what to do about DVD/VHS/CD's, but the edition I have didn't touch the Internet very much.
JW Pepper also offers a couple of other books on the subject, but I linked the one I own.
on January 25, 2013 6:55am
Playing music or videos for students in an educational situation/location from legal copies of the music or videos (even rented videos, such as from Netflix), regardless of who owns those legal copies, is perfectly allowable, and the person giving you that advice was entirely incorrect. You can easily discern this by doing a quick web search and reading through the policies at many institutions of higher education. Here's a quote from one from the University of Minnesota (
"To qualify for this exemption, you must: be in a classroom ("or similar place devoted to instruction"). Be there in person, engaged in face-to-face teaching activities. Be at a nonprofit educational institution. Sounds a little restrictive? If (and only if!) you meet these conditions, the exemption gives both instructors and students broad rights to perform or display any works. That means instructors can play movies and music for their students, at any length (though not from illegitimate copies!). Instructors can show students images, or original artworks. Students can perform arias, read poems, and act out scenes. And students and instructors can do all these things without seeking permission, without giving anyone payment, and without having to deal with the complications of fair use."
You'll find many more examples like that from institutions that have had their "legal eagles" go over the existing laws and exemptions very carefully. There's a useful-looking site called "Know Your Copy Rights" (which they have trademarked) here:, and their "Using Copyrighted Works in Your Teaching--FAQ" is here: Most of the resources I found cite Section 110 of the Copyright Act. The key issue here is the legality of the copies from which you are playing. When you say "college choir recordings," a concern could arise if those were supposed to be the single archival recordings for the use of that particular institution, and someone (including the conductor) simply ran off copies and handed them out to the student. There could be issues of "legality" of those copies if the ones you have were made contrary to the law, without proper permissions and/or licensing. Similarly, you probably can't simply log into your iTunes account and start playing that music for the students, as the music there is designated specifically for your personal use (per the legal language at iTunes). So, to be in the clear if you want to be absolutely sure that what you're doing is legal, you need to play music from legal copies to your students as a part of a face-to-face educational activity (standard disclaimer: none of us here are lawyers).
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