Rights and opportunities

This is a footnote to my “Missed Opportunities” post, in which I urged music schools — and music students, even if the schools don’t take any action — to promote student recitals, and in fact to develop a new audience (of the students’ own age) that never came to these recitals at all.

Part of my plan, if the schools got involved, was to do video streams of every recital, and then to archive these videos on the schools’ websites. But here I should have mentioned some inescapable issues with streaming rights. You can’t just stream copyrighted works, or at least you can’t without permission. Which means I’ve had to modify my plan, adding the following to my earlier post:

But of course there are rights issues here. A school might not be able to stream performances of copyrighted works, or even performances of older music in the public domain, if the musicians used a copyrighted critical edition. Of course, you could get permission to stream these pieces, but then you have two problems. First, it’ll cost you. Second, the paperwork involved can be killer (as I’ve heard firsthand from a school administrator who deals with these questions.

So does that kill any thought of streaming? I don’t think so. For one thing, these problems may work themselves out (just as orchestras have worked out with their musicians ways to make recordings, which for decades were impossibly expensive because the musicians had to be paid extra to make them). Once the idea — even the necessity — of streaming starts to spread, we might get momentum towards making streaming easier to do. Certainly composers and publishers of new works stand to benefit here. What composer wouldn’t want archived videos of performances of her music?

And then I don’t see why partial streaming wouldn’t work now. Stream and archive everything in the public domain, while you only do short excerpts — allowable, I’d think, under the standard concept of fair use — of copyrighted works. Thus my idea could, I’d think, be put into motion right now, just as I’ve said, even while the rights issues still remain difficult.

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  1. says

    What gets me with this whole thing is the infuriatingly flexible concept of what “fair use” is…one man’s fair use is another man’s lawsuit waiting to happen. I’m looking at these issues both for my institution and for my own work with The Composer Next Door and streaming video would be the best choice for both…if any of us had a clue as to how to do it without burying ourselves in costs & paperwork or risking litigation, life would be wonderful.

    I agree wholeheartedly that the necessity of streaming will cause things to change…the problem is figuring out how to nudge things along without having your content forcibly removed or seeing the inside of a courtroom.

  2. says


    Couldn’t the rights issue be settled by schools’ registering with ASCAP and BMI, paying annual fees, and getting blanket permission? They aren’t charging to see the recitals.

  3. says

    This is a HUGE issue, I think, and one that music schools need to use collective lobbying power to address. Sure, our great classics are public domain and can be streamed/archived no problem, but the music that needs to be shared much more actively is new (and new-er) music.

    Greg, do you have any specific resources to recommend for college music faculty looking into this issue?

    Unfortunately not, Stuart. I need to get up to speed about this myself.

  4. says

    This is a HUGE issue, I think, and one that music schools need to use collective lobbying power to address. Sure, our great classics are public domain and can be streamed/archived no problem, but the music that needs to be shared much more actively is new (and new-er) music.

    Greg, do you have any specific resources to recommend for college music faculty looking into this issue?

  5. says

    I think streaming of recitals and concerts at music schools works well – Cal Arts and Princeton are two schools I can think of that already do this.

    But archiving is a more complicated issue. The obstacles go beyond cost and rights – before this becomes a feasible option for schools, they need to find a model to successfully use these potential online resources. The rise and fall of so many online file-sharing, music download and social networking sites over the years is a testament to the difficulty involved in this. I’m not saying it’s not a worthwhile project, just that there are many more questions that need to be considered…

    Music schools have hundreds of recitals each year. If they all go online, how would you present or manage such a dense catalog? If not, how does the school choose which recitals or works to archive? Do students get a say in this? What happens when the performer of an archived work is no longer a student at the school?

    What about the rights and control of the student performers? I don’t think I’d be happy if my undergrad college had recordings of my freshman recitals online, for example! And I can see situations where a performer, having released a professional recording of a work, might not want earlier performances available online. It could even be argued that though the school isn’t charging to access online recitals, if the idea is promotion then they are deriving benefit from the performers’ works. Obviously online recitals also promote the performers involved, but then will the site include links to the performers’ websites or upcoming performances?

    One solution might be a MySpace style site moderated by the school: students could choose to upload tracks (from their school recitals only.) You could have a nice profile of each performer (e.g. freshman violinist, from Iowa, student of x) and links to their other endeavors. As students graduate they would have the choice to keep their tracks online or withdraw them. Perhaps MySpace could even provide the architecture to schools for a modest fee.

    Thanks for asking all these cogent questions! Concepts are easier than implementation. I’d thought the archive would be useful for promotion. If someone’s giving a recital this week, go to the archive to see the last one she gave. Might also be useful for students considering going to a school, because they could see the level and style of playing they’d encounter on their instruments.

    But no, we’d hardly want a student to be miserable because some ghastly wrong note is preserved for all eternity.

  6. June says

    No, this is actually a very serious issue for the living composers. With due respect, I think you’re really missing out on that both from the performers’ and the composer’s point of view.

    Possibly you’ve been lucky enough to not share the common experience of getting totally non-representative, inaccurate performances of your music, after minimal rehearsal time… but there are certainly performances from my past that I’m extremely grateful not to have online.

    In fact, I think an environment of performers knowing a performance would be available online would hurt the youngest composers’ chances of getting performed. Young performers are sometimes already nervous and reluctant enough about the idea of premiering a piece even when they don’t have this kind of exposure hanging over their heads.

    (Also, BMI and ASCAP licensing specifically does not cover this. As a composer you make a choice when you sign up with either of those PROs about whether or not you want them to handle your online rights. Regardless of what you decide, the online rights are entirely separate from the live-performance rights and are not covered by an institution’s blanket fee to the PROs.)

    June, thanks for the clarification.

    And no, I haven’t been immune to bad — and worse, unrepresentative — performances of my music. Though not when I was in music school! (Yale School of Music, 1972-74.)

    Those performances were terrific, and I’d be thrilled to have any of them on video.

    Performances at schools are already recorded. Audio recordings, anyway. This doesn’t seem to deter anyone from taking part. Of course, the recordings aren’t automatically available to the public. So, as people have been saying, we’d have to work out some way of accommodating those who aren’t happy with a performance. Could be tricky, obviously. What if two members of a quartet want the video online, and the other two don’t?

    Let’s not forget, though, that plenty of musicians, and music students, are putting their videos on YouTube, all on their own. So the picture is far from entirely negative.

  7. June says

    To answer the first poster: the legal concept of fair use is not really flexible, it’s just very (very!) commonly misinterpreted. Most of what people guess/hope is “probably fair use” is actually not.