The public library staff puts on an annual show for the community that consists of music with lyrics written by staff members. Is it infringement to include popular songs to which the staff writes its own lyrics?

Lyrics are protected along with the musical composition, and changing lyrics is an adaptation of the original work. Under section 110(4) of the Copyright Act, nonprofit performances for which no performers or promoters are paid and for which the admission charge goes to charitable, religious, or educational purposes are exempted. But this is really performance of the music as it was written. On the other hand, many singing groups do exactly what the public library staff doesrewrite lyricsand copyright holders do not seem to complain.

Is it permissible to play ambient music in the background at a library?

Typically, the public performance of music is licensed. In fact, entities subscribe to digital music services so that they can play background music (including when someone is put "on hold" on the telephone). Although there are no public performance rights for sound recordings except for digital transmission, the composer of the music (or the assignee) does have performance rights. Another way to provide background music is under section 110(5) of the Copyright Act, which permits even commercial establishments to play radio and television when there is no charge to hear or see the performance, and the radio or television set is the equivalent of a home receiving set.

The Mississippi Department of Archives and History produced a series of sound recordings in the 1970s that feature live performances of blues musicians, some of whom are now famous. Are there any restrictions on how these recordings may be used? May the recordings be streamed in the media room?

It sounds as if the Department actually owns the copyright in these sound recordings. It is possible, however, that other ownership arrangements were made at the time, but it is unlikely. Thus, the Department may do with the sound recordings whatever it wants, including streaming in the media room.

A community group shows a feature film to an audience in the public library free of charge in order to raise awareness about an important social issue. Is this infringement?

Yes. Even a very good cause does not convert a public performance to one that does not require a license. Motion pictures are not included under section 110(4), the nonprofit performance exception of the Copyright Act, and either the library or the community group should acquire the public performance rights. Many videos can be purchased with a public performance license, and sometimes there is no charge for that license.

In a nonprofit library, if library staff members are making a presentation to the staff and spontaneously come across a cartoon or other graphic that fits, may the graphic be used just for the presentation without seeking permission as long as the source is attributed? What about if the staff makes a routine monthly presentation and wants to use that same graphic repeatedly?

There certainly is a strong argument that displaying a work once for in-house use is fair use. A display is different than copying the work and distributing it to everyone who attends the presentation. When one looks at the fair use factors, a one-time display to an in-house audience has little market effect, as contrasted with multiple copying, which may have considerable market effect. Repeated use of the cartoon or image changes the dynamic, however. Now it is not a onetime use but rather is used with different audiences over time. If that display is to be repeated, permission should be sought.

Children's librarians want to scan photographs and illustrations from books that the library owns in order to create PowerPoint slides. The slides are then used by teachers and librarians, typically along with the book. Is this permissible? Is there a limit on the number of slides that may be scanned? Is there a limit on the number of years that the slides may be used without permissions?

If this were a nonprofit educational institution, most likely it would be a fair use for an individual teacher to use such PowerPoint slides repeatedly in teaching, but this is a public library. One would apply the four fair use factors (purpose and character of the use, nature of the copyrighted work, amount and substantiality used, and market effect) to determine whether the reproduction of the illustrations onto slides and their subsequent use is fair use. Certainly, the slides should not be posted on the web or otherwise distributed. The library could seek permission to reproduce and use the illustrations as described.

 
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