Roll Over Beethoven and Copy… Right!

Part of my course at Full Sail is about media issues, you know, stuff like Copyright, Fair Use and Creative Commons. The “M” in our program title (EMDT) is Media and my students, who are in their ninth month of a year long Masters degree program, are expected to stare down this huge subject and come up with a reasonable approach to something that I tell them occupies the life’s work of an army of lawyers, policymakers and troublemakers. As I lay down guiding principles to understanding the moving target that is Copyright/Fair Use/Creative Commons the discussions tend to be quite lively and informative for all participants. One thing that I’ve never fully appreciated is how difficult and expensive it can be for teachers who want to follow copyright law who teach band, or theater or any of the other arts.

One teacher wrote in her class blog:

Seriously, the whole copyrighting thing….I get it. I understand why things are copyrighted. I just think it gets taken to an extreme and so many people suffer from it. I’m sorry, but this recording: (insert, mp3 of me playing Beethoven’s 5th Symphony with one hand on the piano but I couldn’t get to work properly) just doesn’t cut it when I’m teaching my kids about Beethoven. I know I am guilty of a lot of music copyrighting issues. I have gotten a lot better about it since I began teaching (that also comes with the experience and learning more and more about copyrighting). Music teachers have it tough – we aren’t allowed to photocopy music. No matter that it costs an average of $2-$5 per student copy (multiply by 25 students and you’re talking $50-$100 for ONE song). It’s simply unrealistic to think that any school can afford 10-15 songs PER CONCERT. I end up using a lot of the textbook series songs, which in it’s own right is probably not allowed either because it’s being performed live (but not broadcast). And of course, when you’re teaching the classics and the composers who wrote them, and they are not all in the series, you bring in your own music. How can a music teacher teach music without playing music?!??!? – “Alison Van”

Understanding the overwhelming power of motivated students (especially those under the age of 17), my first thought was that we needed to harness their creativity to come up with the music and art that we needed in the classroom to teach those just beginning to learn their craft. Then another student reminded me the role copying has always had in inspiring beginning artists. Oh yeah…

I think everyone uses something they’ve seen, heard, or read in a book or movie as inspiration. Using sports as an example, every kid with a basketball tries to imitate Michael Jordan’s moves on the court… Jenkins (Convergence Culture, 2008) makes this correlation with fledgling writers. By imitating or using the J.K. Rowling’s books as a starting point beginning writers understand good structure, character development, and how to tell a story. By using Jordan’s moves you understand how to attack the rim, how to play tenacious defense, and how to find openings. In both cases you aren’t trying to invent the wheel just make it better. Jenkins cites the fact that using someone else’s characters gives writers distance and takes the pressure off of drawing from one’s own experiences. – Jay Hom

This got me thinking. Clearly something is really messed up here. I mean, when it comes to students learning how to write and posting things in an educational or non-profit environment it’s pretty clear that there should be a special license for this, recognizing that beginning writers/artists always begin by copying the masters who came before them. From before the beginning of recorded history, persons wanting to learn a craft became apprentices in the service of a master, and what was their first job? Generally they spent years copying the works of the master until they proved themselves to be creative and skilled enough to be permitted to work on their own works. No one starts from scratch. This is where the media business and commerce has failed to recognize how humans, by nature, do things. Where would today’s artists be if it weren’t for an art teacher, a music teacher, a drama teacher or an English teacher? Even if the teacher’s influence was negative, inspiring the young artist to prove them wrong, the inspiration brought them that much closer to their dream. And who did the artists copy when they were learning how to draw, to play an instrument, to write, to imagine?

Let me put it this way, there’s something wrong in requiring the teacher to pay the student. In educational/non-profit situations teachers should have a special license to use the copyrighted works that they need to use in order to train the next generation of artists. This license should either be free or extremely inexpensive and any payment should be made directly to the composer/artist/writer and not to a publishing house or agency. If this seems to unreasonable to the media industry let’s use the same tactic used by the industry and begin by assuming that behind every artist, agency or media business was an educator and/or educational institution that got the artist, agency or business started. And so for every media property licensed, every paycheck generated from a piece of media, every negotiation related to any piece of art, music, literature, videos, any creative work, 10 percent of the gross must be paid to the educational institution or educator(s) who had a hand in beginning and/or nurturing the artist’s career. And given the media industry’s proven track record for creative accounting, artists/agencies/businesses unable to do the math will have a minimum of 10 percent deducted from their pre-tax gross income. This seems fair given the number of years educators and educational institutions devote to developing these artists. Or maybe a special educational use license (something like the creative commons license) could be employed. Either way, the business of taxing teachers and educational institutions in the business of producing the next generation of artists is just another example of how out of control and greedy the industry is willing to be. Getting back to my first notion, there is a lot of talent in the high school and college music programs that should be harnessed to create “Creative Commons” pieces that could be freely used in educational teaching and performances and the whole educational system should turn their backs on an industry that forgets that their “artists” first learned their love of their craft via the efforts of an underpaid classroom teacher.

In a blog that featured the opening video of PS22’s chorus singing the Fleetwood Mac song “Landslide” there were a few comments about what a beautiful performance it was but how pissed the RIAA was going to be. The blogger wrote, “Just got word from Stevie Nicks’ tour manager that she was completely blown away by the PS22 Chorus rendition of her song “Landslide!” He said she asked him to replay two times afterward, crying each time she watched! Talk about humbling!! And the kicker?? She invited the PS22 Chorus to sing the song at Madison Square Garden for the upcoming June 11th Fleetwood Mac show!! Holy cow!!!”

It’s been my experience that when the artist, the actual person responsible for the creative work, is brought into the picture they recognize the power of hearing or seeing their work re-imaged by the generation of artists coming up. And in the age of the Internet and email we educators are only one contact away from securing the releases that respect copyright while supporting the need to train and teach the next generation of artists. When Neil Finn, Crowded House lead singer, heard PS22 perform one of his tunes he said that it was “the most hopeful sound on earth.” Amen, Neil.

Crowded House & PS22 Chorus PRIVATE UNIVERSE live!

* “Why Publish Student Work on the Web: PS22 Chorus Perform ‘Landslide’ by Fleetwood Mac” on Open Thinking blog at, retrieved 5/29/2009
* retrieved 3/29/2009
* retrieved 4/21/2009
* “Augusta Savage, artist – 1930s film” (video) posted by Bob Bobster at retrieved on 5/30/2009
* PS22 Chorus PRIVATE UNIVERSE opening for CROWDED HOUSE at retrieved on 5/30/2009
* Crowded House & PS22 Chorus PRIVATE UNIVERSE live! at retrieved on 5/30/2009


  1. Joffin-Mari

    Hello, Mr. B!

    I love Fleetwood Mac. And I love this post of yours. For a while there, i was in a premature cringe mode because I was expecting a not so happy ending to the post, but I am glad that the “owners” of the music used by PS 22 Chorus received the performances warmly.

    Your blog has been a wealth of info and iniight. Thanks for the inisgh!


  2. Cristina Tuckness

    So, am I understanding that the students were infringing on “Landslide” copyright because of performing it without permission from the artist/author? Was it because the performance was posted to YouTube? Why would RIAA be authorized to prevent a group from performing the song? Would any group anywhere in the world be required to receive permission prior to performing or video-taping a performance?


    1. joe.bustillos

      We’ll be talking about copyright over the next three weeks in class, but essentially yes, one must get permission to perform someone else’s song in a public venue. The agency BMI usually handles securing performance or mechanical rights for their artists. Any public performance of a commercially published song or recording must be cleared by the copyright holder (media company). Bars, restaurants, churches, schools and any place that routinely plays recorded music or hosts live performances have to have licensing agreements covering playing recorded or live music. Ask any music or drama teacher about the fees their programs have to pay to use the media they use. YouTube is a second issue. Again, we’ll talk about this later, but the issue of publishing on YouTube is a second issue that is generally resolved by YouTube having an agreement with the large recording companies that permits YouTube to publish videos with copyrighted songs.


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