Copyright Law Update: Burbank HS Choir Boosters Not Liable for Alleged Copyright Violations

Previously, I wrote and have covered in the TLO live webinars an interesting copyright case that could affect scholastic and independent music programs nationwide.  That case is Tresona Multimedia, LLC v. Burbank High School Vocal Music Association, Inc., et al. in federal court in the the Central District of California.

One of the most startling claims that Tresona alleged was that the choir’s booster organization can be held liable for alleged copyright infringement involving the school ensemble's performances.  This was a novel theory and to my knowledge never tested before.  

Fortunately, sanity has intervened in this case.  The booster organization in this case filed a motion for summary judgment, which if granted, would have excused them from the case.  They were successful. 

On February 22, 2017, US District Judge Stephen V. Wilson ruled that the boosters’ motion for summary judgment was granted.  The legal standard for granting a summary judgment motion in federal court is basically that if the judge or jury assumed all the facts that the plaintiff alleged were true, that no reasonable jury would agree with the plaintiff’s legal theory.  In other words, that the plaintiff’s legal theory was so substantively weak that no one could rule in their favor. 

In so doing, Judge Wilson rejected Tresona's legal theory that a booster organization can beheld liable for copyright infringement alleged against a performing ensemble which the boosters’ financially support.  This is sound policy and can be summed up by the following quote from Judge Wilson’s opinion:  

"To find that the Boosters Club exercised control over Greene and Carroll would be analogous to finding that a high school football team's boosters club could tell the coach what plays to run."

To read the entire opinion, click here.

Copyright Law & Marching Arts: The School Concert Exemption

Over the past few months, I have had in depth conversations with WGI, DCI and DCA ensemble directors about Copyright Law and how the changing legal landscape is affecting the Marching and Pageantry Arts.   One of the main discussions is about when performing ensembles fit into the School Concert Exemption of the Copyright Act. 

Let's rewind: The Copyright Act (the "Act") is a federal law that regulates the rights of creators and the rights of third parties to use licensed (i.e. copyrighted) content.  The basic rule is that one cannot legally reproduce, perform or distribute the copyrighted work of another person unless: 1) you have obtained a written license from the rights holder to do so, or 2) your particular use fits into one of the exemptions contained in the Act.  

Note: For the purposes of this discussion, we are not going to talk into the Fair Use Doctrine, which is a subject unto itself. 

One of the exemptions contained in the Act is known as the School Concert Exemption

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