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Advice on copyright protection for music teachers who compose?

Discussion in 'Music' started by Muzelle, Jul 8, 2011.

  1. Muzelle

    Muzelle New commenter

    I used to teach music in an independent school, and enjoyed composing songs for my pupils. I recorded one of these songs with the school choir and put it on the music page of the school website, to demonstrate the department's creative output. But there were no written or verbal licensing agreements between myself and the school.

    I was made redundant from this job last year, but the school continues to keep this song on its website. I have asked the school to remove it and have informed them that the material is copyright protected and used without permission.
    The school has ignored my request.

    Now, I understand that there are issues with copyright law when one has created work in the role of 'employee'.
    According to the Intellectual Property Office:
    "Where a written, theatrical, musical or artistic work, or a film, is made by an employee in the course of his employment, his employer is the first owner of any copyright in the work (subject to any agreement to the contrary)."

    However, in my case the school neither asked me to compose the material in question, nor was it aware that I was doing so. In addition the material was not composed specifically for the pupils of this school and was recorded using my own equipment as the school did not have any of its own. And it certainly wasn't a contractual requirement that I produce original works for the school. And to add insult to injury the school considered me unworthy of leading either its choir, or its music department (yes, boo hoo for me).

    Does anyone with legal experience and/or knowledge have any advice?

  2. This is on the assumption that you created the resources while in their employment and not before.

    I would imagine that broadcasting rights have been breached by this anyway, they may want to take it down for their own protection.

    This means that you own the Mechanical copyright, not the school I believe

    I have a lecturer who created a play, she has investigated the legalities of this and she is clearly the owner, not the school, despite the fact that students have performed and used this as part of their course. The same will apply to you. My advice would be to speak to the musicians union and/or seek legal advice. I would be confident that the school is in the wrong.
  3. http://www.copyrightservice.co.uk/copyright/p27_work_of_others
  4. http://www.copyrightservice.co.uk/copyright/p13_permission
  5. florian gassmann

    florian gassmann Star commenter

    If it was composed before you were employed by the school, or if it was composed in your own time and at the specific request of another school, you have a good case. Send them a letter by recorded delivery announcing your intention of taking a case of Copyright infringement to the County Court unless they immediately desist. Taking a small claim through the County Court is neither difficult nor expensive, but just formally announcing the intention (traditionally done on blue paper and colloquially known as a "blue frightener" is usually enough).
    However, if the above was not the case, and you wrote the piece while employed by the school, and then went on to record it with pupils from the school, and used it "to demonstrate the department's creative output", I fear you have a very weak case - and perhaps no case at all. His Honour would most likely conclude that this is the sort of work that many teachers do, as part of their role in providing resources and promoting the work of their department, and that legally the copyright therefore does indeed reside with the school itself.
  6. I would have previously agreed with you but when a lecturer I worked with recently investigated this with the writing of her short play, (which, I hasten to add was written for the students through a commission she had been given specifically for a national Theatre in Education project), she was told unequivocally that the work belonged to her. This information was given by an independent legal representative. Could it be that there is a distinct difference between school policy and contractual terms and the copyright law? Would the school have to prove that the work was created on site?
  7. I'm sorry I'm coming back to this having gone away and thought about it a little more. Even if the school owns the intellectual copyright (although I do think this may be contractual policy rather than copyright law) you own the mechanical copyright which is what they are using. The mechanical copyright is owned by whoever facilitated the recording, which was clearly you. This information was given to me by a Musicians Union advisor relatively recently so I would hope is accurate. I really think you should investigate further and add this into the content of the letter that Florian helpfully suggested.
  8. Join the PRS as a writer and register your song with them. It only costs £10 and it comes off your first royalty payment. Everytime your song is performed live you will get money.
    There are currently no good methods for copyrighting, so the only thing you can do is provide evidence of producing the song first. When I write things in bands I put a cd and lyrics into a sealed envelope and send it to myself via recorded delivery.
  9. Muzelle

    Muzelle New commenter

    Thanks for your feedback folks, I will do some further investigation.
  10. Muzelle

    Muzelle New commenter

    However, I wonder how His Honour would react to the fact that this same school was not only blatantly in favor of someone else directing the choir, to the point at which I was prevented from doing so, but then went on to make my position redundant? I wonder if there is some kind of ethical issue here?
  11. florian gassmann

    florian gassmann Star commenter

    School policy cannot override the law of the land. The teaching contract is relevant, but it must expressly state that the school will not exercise its right to claim copyright in creative work produced by its staff. Without that, the default position in law is that the school owns the copyright, even for work produced in a teacher's own time and on the teacher's own equipment.
    The position is explained on following part of the Unite website:
    Basically, the test is whether the work concerned could reasonably
    be expected to be produced under the terms of a teacher's contract. Muzelle says the song was recorded with the
    school choir and put on the school website to
    demonstrate the department's creative output. This is something that many music teachers do and so a court might well decide that it is reasonable to regard it as part of Muzelle's work at the school.
    She mentioned it was for an independent school, where job descriptions are notoriously wide - something that the website above warns about. Although in state schools there may well be a clause in the contract to the effect that the teacher is expected to provide resources for the school - a teacher from Scotland mentioned this here quite recently - in which case, such resources would almost certainly be regarded as copyright of the school concerned.
    I wish Muzelle luck, but I'm not confident she has a legal case.
  12. Doitforfree

    Doitforfree Star commenter

    PRS is basically a scam and they don't work like this at all. You don't need to register with them. They won't get you any more money than you would get yourself, which is precisely nothing as no one ever gets permission for live performances except at huge events, which is unlikely to matter to you, so no one ever pays a royalty. Have you ever known a school get permission for the music it performs in its concerts, or pay a fee? I haven't. They do it for shows but not concerts, so you won't get any money. But you do have the right to stop the school using your song. Or you could send them a bill for its use, for whatever amount you wish, and if they don't pay sue them in the small claims court, at which point they WILL pay!
  13. florian gassmann

    florian gassmann Star commenter

    I'm afraid a judge would rule that that was irrelevant to a copyright case.
    You might get a better reaction from an Employment Tribunal, if you were to consider taking out a case of constructive dismissal, but I doubt that the copyright issue would be taken into account as I think, from what has been said, that the school are quite probably within their rights to claim copyright. I would strongly recommend getting advice from your union, though, before considering taking a case to a tribunal.
    It certainly sounds like they have behaved abominably, but I'm not convinced that they've acted illegally.
  14. florian gassmann

    florian gassmann Star commenter

    Nonsense. I know several composers who depend on their PRS royalty for a significant part of their income. Nobody would bother to write music anymore if the PRS weren't doing their job as composers don't have the time and resources to handle their own copyright licensing.
    That's probably because the LEA normally pays the PRS licence, and you don't apply to the PRS to perform individual pieces of copyright music. The licence gives blanket coverage for the performance of all copyright music (except musicals).
    The PRS works out the royalties due to composers by a process of sampling. That is, from time to time, they will ask a school or other licensed venue, to provide a return of works performed during the year, from which they extrapolate the percentages due to their individual members.
  15. Errr... Works for fine for me thanks :)
    As a band you upload a setlist and you get money out of the venue's PRS license. Works like this for any music. As long as they know your music was performed.
  16. Doitforfree

    Doitforfree Star commenter

    You might get some royalties but you don't get royalties per performance. They ask some venues what has been performed and the money is distributed pro rata. For one off licences you don't have to say what is performed or broadcast so PRS don't know. They will charge you the same whether the music you're performing belongs to one of their members or not. So it's a scam. If you pay for a licence the people who own the copyright of the music you're performing will get nothing if they're not registered with PRS. Really, for any performance, you should find out if the music you're performing is covered by PRS. If it's not you need to contact the copyright owners directly for their permission and/or to pay their fee.
    When we were making a CD they told us one of our songs wasn't covered by them. After chasing round the states for months it turned out it was covered after all! So I don't have a lot of faith in their admin.
  17. In a band we get approximately £60 for every band peformance at a PRS licensed venue.


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