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Monthly Archives: December 2007

This Week's Law and Video Podcast features a theatre question

Podcast Logo,On this week's Law and Video Podcast I was asked a theatre-related music question:

Our community theater is producing a
Christmas show that will use other people's songs.
What is the best way to find out who owns this classic
music? Many of them are religious hymns which, I
understand do not hold any copyrights. Please clear
this up?

This seems like a simple question, but it has layers.

First, if it's just a christmas concert or pageant, where the songs are not part of telling the story… then it falls under the so-called “small” public performance rights which are administered by the Peforming Rights Societies ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC here in the US. other countries have other societies.

Now, all you need to do is contact these societies (both, unless you're sure all the songs are in one- or the other's catalog) (you can check that online) And obtain a basic license for your kind of performance. The fee will be based on the size of the venue, number of performances, and ticket price. Also, if it's a nonprofit, the fee will be different than a for-profit venture.

Now, if the songs DO form an integral part of the story line of the show, we're talking about something called “Grand Rights”, and you have to obtain written permission from each composer or publisher. Again, it's easiest to start by visiting the ASCAP or BMI website and searching for the title of each song… that will give you the information about the publisher that administers the rights… then contact them, and negotiate a license….

OK, finally the issue about “classics” and religious hymns. First of all, there are plenty of “Classics” that are still protected by copyright. “White Christmas”, “The Christmas Song” etc., so you'd need permission for those. Also, just because something is a religious hymn, doesn't mean it's not protected… it really comes down to when it was written. Copyright protection lasts a long time. So each title requires some study. A good rule of thumb is that if the song was written prior to 1921, it is probably NOT protected. OTHERWISE, go through the whole analysis.

Obviously, this whole process takes time, so next year, start this process in September, OK?

This week on Law and Video Podcast (December 18, 2007)


This week’s legal Q & A session is now available at

We record live on Live Tuesdays at 5pm Pacific/8pm Eastern, or you can download and listen at your convenience.

This week's topics:

  •  Are Movie titles Trademarks?  Can I be forced to give up my fan-website name?
  • Works created for the Government… Can the government implement changes at will?
  • Copyright for educational video projects in the United Arab Emirates.
  • Going rates for legal work on mid-budget independent films.
  • Do I need releases for deceased subjects of 1930's era true-story film?
  • Does a contract include only tv rights, or is internet, dvd, etc. included?
  • Can I use SAG actors in a non-SAG film?
  • How do DEFERRED and CONTINGENT compensation deals work?
  • What music rights are needed (and from whom) for a  (live stage) christmas show/concert/pageant?

We'll be taking Christmas  Day and New Year's day off, and returning to our live schedule  in early January.

  • How can I take investment for my video project without violating SEC rules?

Quoted by Associated Press

This afternoon, I learned that I’ve been quoted in a brief piece by  Eric Carvin of the Associated Press, entitled “Do the Late Shows Want Your Jokes? No!” The essence of the piece is to ask whether with the Late Shows going back on in early January, now’s the opportunity for amateur jokesters to submit… Continue Reading

Support AB 1365 (Funding for the Arts)

I don’t usually use this forum to air my political views, but sometimes, I feel an issue is important. California spends approximately 3 cents per capita on support for the arts. This ranks California dead last among the states. The national average spending per capita is about $1.00. California’s position is simply shameful, expecially considering… Continue Reading

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