YouTube videos – permissions

It’s fun to share videos of handbell ringing on YouTube, but there are some formalities to take care of first.

Recording and posting videos requires permission from:
• The performers
• The videographer (if not you)
• The venue and/or promoter
• The copyright holder:
✦ for creating the video
✦ for broadcasting the video
✦ of any recorded music used in your performance, like a backing track

These are a matter just not of courtesy and law, but also the terms of use of your YouTube account. Though I’m writing about YouTube, this article also applies to posts using other online services, like Facebook, or live streaming over the Internet. Remember that a video posted on YouTube can be shared by posting a link on other services (for example, you could post a Facebook update and include a link to a YouTube video, instead of uploading the video directly to Facebook).

Permission from the performers: Different performers have different philosophies on recording. Some are happy you like their work enough to want to share it. Others feel that a live performance is a one-time event, and if they want to have a permanent record of it to share beyond the audience who attended, they’ll record it themselves. Still others take great exception to the idea that people buying a ticket feel entitled to a permanent record of the concert for free, especially if the performers sell their own recordings. Always ask; never assume it’s OK to record someone else’s performance.

If you’re the performer, some points to consider before granting permission:
• Is the work you’re performing under copyright? If so, you don’t have the legal right to allow others to record it. If they record it without your permission, a copyright holder is less likely to sue you for the infringement.
• Do you have the right to speak for the other performers? Make it clear you’re speaking only for yourself, unless you have explicit authority to speak for others. Bell choirs may want to consider getting a written release from all the bell choir members (or parents of minors) acknowledging that their performance may be recorded and broadcast without compensation. This is especially important if minors are involved.
• Will the recording affect the performance? Being recorded is more nerve-wracking than performing only for a live audience. Add the distraction of blinding flash and camera noise, and the problem multiplies.
• How will the recording affect the audience’s experience? No one wants to go to the trouble of attending a live event only to watch it through a sea of hoisted iPads, phones, and blinking camcorder lights.
• Will the recording reflect well on you? Once the recording is made, you have no control over how it’s used. If you didn’t perform at your best, or if the video quality is poor, the only impression some people may have of your work is that embarrassing YouTube post.

To prevent unauthorized recording, place a notice in your printed concert program, and a clause in the contract (if any). For events where this is impractical, like a holiday festival, put a sign on the table or piano along the lines of “Please no recording or photography.” If necessary, you can announce it, or ask the host to announce it.

Permission from the videographer: If you hire someone to record the concert, or a friend does it for free, be sure both parties consider this a ‘work for hire,’ where the rights to the recording belong to you. If the venue records the concert for you, check with the staff that they approve your planned use of the video. In my experience, a third party who records for you generally assumes you will handle all the copyright clearances needed, though sometimes a videographer may ask for proof of this. Don’t assume the videographer is handling copyright clearances for you, unless you see written evidence.

Permission from the venue and/or promoter: Most of the venues you’re likely to perform in will probably allow you to record your own performance using your own equipment. However, some venues don’t allow recording, for reasons of safety or union rules. You’re more likely to be allowed to record your concert if your tripod doesn’t block an aisle or otherwise present a tripping hazard, and if you’re performing in a non-union venue.

A promoter would be someone like Handbell Musicians of America, an Area hosting a conference, or a concert promoter. Handbell Musicians of America prohibits recording any of its national events. This is routinely (and rudely) ignored, but be aware that the rule exists. Other handbell conference organizers may be lax about this.

Permission from the copyright holder: Technically, you need 2 different types of permission from the copyright holder: a synchronization license (the type of license required whenever images are set to music) and a digital performance/broadcast license. As a practical matter, you can usually get permission for the two uses with a single request. There is no centralized clearinghouse for this; you must approach each copyright holder individually, or engage a licensing service. Also, a copyright holder has no legal obligation to grant permission for video, and can charge whatever the market will bear (unlike audio recording, which has a compulsory license system at a statutory rate).

Besides videos of a performance, you also need permission if you set images to music and/or transmit it online for any other purpose. An example might be a slideshow you display while you perform the piece. (See the separate article about slideshows on this website.) Other examples include using music in an instructional video, talking on a video while music plays in the background (perhaps a radio), creating and storing PDFs of printed sheet music in an online repository, or using copyrighted music in distance learning (e.g. a lesson via Skype or online chat).

If you use pre-recorded music in your performance, like a backing or accompaniment track, you need additional permission from whoever holds the copyright to that recording. There may be two copyrights involved: the recording itself and the underlying sheet music. If you recorded the track yourself, you should have obtained permission for that use through a mechanical license, which you can read about elsewhere on this site. Check whether the terms of that license allow you to use the recording in a subsequent video.

It goes without saying that you must pay the performance royalties on any public performance you plan to video and post on YouTube, unless a specific exemption applies.

Remember that YouTube videos are broadcast internationally. The work you’re playing may be in the public domain in the United States, but still under copyright elsewhere. That happened with a Ralph Vaughan Williams piece I transcribed. I didn’t need permission to transcribe it for solo bells to perform and record it in the U.S., but I did need permission to post the video online.

How to get permission: I’ve had very good luck with the following approach. Before I perform copyrighted music, I look up the copyright holder through Google and contact the person in charge of permissions. If you don’t know who the copyright holder is, look for the copyright notice at the bottom of the first page of sheet music. You can also research it through ASCAP and other databases. (See the article on this website about permissions.)

An email address for the person handling permissions is usually listed on the publisher’s website, and there’s sometimes a form for this request. If not, I send an email introducing myself, explaining the kind of venues I perform in (to make it clear I’m not a big-time rock star with budget to match), give the title, arranger, and catalog number of the work, and ask what their policy is about YouTube videos. I also mention that my YouTube channel is non-commercial (which means I don’t have revenue from ads running against my videos).

You can generally expect a response within a couple of weeks. If a publisher doesn’t respond to your inquiry, contact the composer. S/he may have another contact at the publisher who will be more receptive to your request, or nudge the person who was supposed to respond. I usually send handbell composers a link to my videos of their work, once approved.

I save a copy of the copyright holder’s email response to a folder on my computer labeled Permissions. If I’m writing for permission to transcribe a piece for solo handbells, I ask about the YouTube policy at the same time. That way, I know whether I’ll be allowed to video the piece in performance. Sometimes this is the deciding factor in whether to invest time in a piece.

Though you need to seek permission, yourself, rather than rely on my experience, you may find it helpful to read some responses I’ve received to my requests:

• AGEHR Publishing – allows this use with a one-time fee of $20 per video.
• From the Top – allows this use without a fee. They request a link to the video so they can consider posting it to their site.
• GIA Music – allows this use without a fee, provided you include a citation either in the video or in the YouTube text field that includes the title of the piece, the name of the composer and/or author, and the copyright notice, along with the phrase “Used with permission.” GIA asks that the video be removed after it’s been posted for one year, and that you email the YouTube link to them. (Obtain more details about this when you contact them for permission.) Note that their policy is limited to YouTube, but you could ask about other online services.
• Nancy Hascall – for the copyrights she owns (e.g. her works published through Above the Line) – allows this use without a fee, provided you credit her as the arranger.
• Hope Publishing/AGAPE – allows this use without a fee, provided you include appropriate credits to the arranger and publisher in the video description, and a link to Hope’s website. Hope is the publisher for most of Christine Anderson’s arrangements.
• Music Sales Corporation – allows this use without a fee provided you send the video link for approval. This applies to YouTube only, as they participate in ad revenue from videos. For non-YouTube postings, they charge $100/year. MSC administers the copyright to Karen Lakey Buckwalter’s Nocturne in A minor.
• Oxford University Press – allows this use if the composer permits it, for $50/year.
• Sonology Music (catalog for STEP) – allows this use without a fee, provided no money changes hands. They request a link to the video so they can consider posting it to their site.

I’ve also had requests from (non-handbell) publishers for as much as $150 every 6 months to post something on YouTube. Needless to say, I didn’t take them up on the offer.

A reminder that these are examples only from my own inquiries. Don’t rely on them, as a publisher’s policies may have changed, or may be different for the work you have in mind. If you are the copyright holder mentioned above, and you feel I’ve misrepresented your policy, please email me the correct information so I can update it.

If you want to video a copyrighted piece to create a DVD for sale, assume that the publishers will require a fee (and possibly a contract) for that use, even if they allowed you to post to YouTube for free.

I always include the following at the end of my videos, as well as in the text description:
• The copyright notice from the sheet music
• The title of the piece
• Composer and/or arranger
• The phrase “used with permission”

Debunking some myths:
• Archive copy – I can find nothing in the copyright law (statute or case law) that permits all musicians to create an archive video of their performances. There is an exception for teachers and students in a face-to-face teaching situation, who have some rights to audio-record copyrighted sheet music for evaluation and rehearsal, but it doesn’t apply to everyone.
• Fair use – As discussed elsewhere on this website, “fair use” is a legal term that covers use of copyrighted material in a very limited set of circumstances. It does not apply to videotaping a performance of an entire musical work. There is no blanket educational, personal, religious, or not-for-profit exception to copyright law.
• Free publicity – You may think your video is good publicity for a work, but the copyright holder may disagree. The burden is on you to obtain permission, not on the copyright holder to find you and request that the video be removed.
• Calling it a “cover ”- A “cover” is a recording made of a musical work by someone besides the original artist. Using this term doesn’t magically make an unauthorized recording legal.
• Posting without publicizing the link – YouTube allows a user to post video either publicly or privately. The copyright restrictions apply regardless of which method you use. You are still sharing it online, and, at the time of uploading the video, you certify that your use of YouTube complies with copyright law.
• “But I bought the music!” – Buying sheet music entitles you to own a piece of paper. You don’t have the right to copy it, and recording is considered a form of copying. Copyright holders have a legal right to multiple income streams from a musical work: sale of sheet music, performance royalties, and recording/broadcast licenses.
• Auditions – There is no exception to copyright law that permits using copyrighted material in a video submitted for an audition, application, competition, or other evaluation.

The solution is simple: Obtain permission first. Handbell publishers in particular tend to be generous in allowing posting of their work. If you’ve already posted something you now realize you shouldn’t have, either take it down, or call the publisher and offer to take it down or to pay for all the time it was posted, if they normally charge a fee. Though there’s a small risk of prosecution by bringing attention to yourself in this way, I’d say it’s unlikely. There’s a good chance that the worst they would do at this point is tell you to remove it, and an even better chance that they’ll tell you not to worry about it. If your initial use is unauthorized, like an arrangement you failed to get permission to create, I suggest taking the video down and starting over, getting arrangement permission before you use the piece again.

Consequences of non-compliance: You don’t even want to think about the financial ramifications of being sued for copyright infringement, not to mention the consequences if you’re found criminally liable. Suffice it to say that you won’t find a good handbell choir in your neighborhood federal prison. While such consequences are unlikely, they are possible. In any event, I think most of us want to conduct our handbell business with integrity, which includes respecting the rights of the composers and publishers we rely on for material.

A more likely scenario is that YouTube will run ads against your videos, which is how copyright holders make money from illegal music videos. They are so aggressive that their process flags many legal videos. Check your YouTube video manager to verify that you don’t have any copyright notices against your account; they would appear under the menu item ‘Copyright notices. ‘ YouTube has a process to dispute inaccurate flagging of copyright violations; just follow the links on the notice. Copyright holders can also demand that your video be removed, and too many “strikes” can cause cancellation of your YouTube account.

Another consequence of non-compliance is that it creates an unfair advantage over handbell musicians who do follow the rules. There are some wonderful pieces in my repertoire I would love to share online, pieces I think would reflect well on me and on our art form, but the terms of use don’t permit it. When others post illegal videos or use copyrighted music without permission, it feels like cheating, in a way.

One positive consequence of compliance is that, when I write to ask permission, or send a link to my video, publishers and/or composers become aware of my work, and they’re often quite supportive. It’s extremely gratifying when a composer tells you your performance of her work was ‘awesome.’

I’ll write another time about how I produce videos, and the qualities of a good handbell video.

Copyright © 2014 Nancy Kirkner,