Figuring out when you can use music, even in a nonprofit educational setting like LSU, is no easy matter. There are a number of ways that all or part of a musical composition might used or shared and the same can be said of a particular sound recording. Outside of a limited face-to-face classroom exemption, most uses of music are generally viewed as requiring a license and/or permission from one or more entities in control of particular uses and specific copyrighted musical materials.
First, consider that there are at least two separate copyrightable items that may be copyrighted:
- The musical composition, that is, the sequence of musical notes, including rhythm, melody, and harmony plus the lyrics and
- The sound recording, which covers the rendition or performance of the musical composition; the particular combination of sounds recorded and expressed in the physical medium.
The musical composition – the music and the lyrics – can have multiple authors and, thus, multiple copyright holders. Typically, the music publisher controls (via an agreement or a © transfer) the copyright in the musical composition. (The Harry Fox Agency specifically represents music publishers so check here first. Another way to find a music publisher is to check a PRO -performing rights organization- music repetoire like BMI's music repertoire or ASCAP's ACE repertory (ASCAP's Clearance Express). See also The Music Publishers Association, searching here.
[For a very informative article on basic music copyrights for a composer, as well as getting a good overview, see Now You Know Everything About Music Publishing… by Paul Resnikoff.
The sound recording also likely has multiple copyright holders including the vocalist, the musicians, the musical director or producer, the recording engineer, etc. Usually any potential holders transfer their rights to the record company who then manages the copyright.
Using Music: The Reproduction, Distribution, and Performance Rights:
• If you want to reproduce © music, i.e., the music and/or lyrics, in print (like sheet music), you need a print license, usually from the publisher.
• If you want to reproduce and distribute © music in physical formats - that is, you are going to perform the musical composition & distribute on cds, you need a mechanical license from the © owner or more likely, the Harry Fox Agency.