minstrel: Re: Filks, copyright, etc.

Timothy Phillips hrothgar at telepath.com
Mon Mar 13 18:18:02 PST 2000

Rowan Seer <QuestTMK at aol.com> wrote:
> in most cases, the Venue requires Artist to clear any
> and all copyrighted material before contract is signed.
> this also includes any and all joke or stories that may be copyrighted.

Have you ever signed a contract of this kind ?  What sort
of venue was it ?

Adelaide wrote:
> The best example for demonstrating this problem is the Girl Scouts of
> America being sued for singing "Puff the Magic Dragon" around campfires.
> They were (successfully) targeted by ASCAP for unlawful performance (which
> was neither charged for nor recorded for reproduction) and unlawful
> publication (for having song sheets, which were not sold, but made
> available for the campers' use free).  ASCAP also routinely sues churches
> for similar infractions, and they are usually successful.  No amount of
> non-profit status or good intentions can insulate an organization on these
> counts.

In 1996 ASCAP sent letters to the many summer camps demanding
that they buy licenses for performance of copyrighted music.
(Wall Street Journal, August 21, 1996, p. 1) They didn't "sue"
the Girl Scouts.  In the wake of the resulting uproar, ASCAP
issued a statement that ASCAP "never sought, nor was it ever
its intention, to license Girl Scouts singing around the
campfire."  (Wall Street Journal, August 27 1996, p. B2)  I think
this statement was technically true:  I think they wanted to
license Girl Scouts singing, not around the campfire,
but _in the dining hall_.  I read somewhere that ASCAP eventually
collected a one-dollar fee from some camps, but in my opinion
nonprofit camps shouldn't have  been required to pay any money.

I'm not aware of ASCAP "routinely" suing churches.  Singing
religious music in church from legally bought copies is, as
I understand,  not an infringement of the performance right.
Copyright might be infringed in some circumstances if copyrighted
music, or copyrighted words (to the choir's anthem, say) are
reprinted in the leaflet, or if copyrighted music is recorded
on tape, but ASCAP doesn't license these things.  ASCAP might
become involved, though, if the church played recorded
copyrighted music in the  course of services, or hosted
performances of copyrighted music outside of worship.
Can you cite any cases of this kind ?

Obviously, the usual disclaimer applies:  I am not a lawyer,
this post is private opinion, nothing in this post is
legal advice, etc.

Tim Phillips
<hrothgar at telepath.com>

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