Sunday, November 22, 2009

Christmas Song Infringement

Dear Rich: I have a question. A private Christian school wants to record their students singing traditional Christmas songs, some public domain, some not. They want to sell the CD to the parents and supporters of the school as a fundraiser. Is there any problem with this? I'm so glad you asked. The short answer to your question is, "Maybe." Recording and duplicating a copyrighted (non-public domain) song is an infringement and not likely to be considered a fair use. Under the law, the owner of the song copyright could hassle you and make you stop your distribution. Of course, as with all minor infringements like this, the question is raised: "If a Christmas tree falls in the forest, will anyone hear it?" In other words, if your infringement is so minor, transient, or trivial, will the copyright owner find out about it (and will they care if they do)?
Here at Dear Rich headquarters, we can't answer that question. If you're willing to take that route, you can probably do nothing and the world will continue to turn without interruption. But our friendly staff can tell you that it's fairly easy to avoid any potential legal entanglements and get permission for most copyrighted songs. It involves paying a fee at the Harry Fox website and using their Songfile system. It's quite easy to do. You pay 9.1 cents per song per unit plus a per-song processing fee of about $15. So if you duplicated 1000 copies of "The Christmas Song" (see above) your fee would be $106 for that song. By the way, if you use a commercial CD duplicator, that company will require you to check a box to the effect that you have this permission.