Copyright: Recording and Selling Student Performances


Teachers and parent groups often want to record student performances. What does copyright law dictate?

The 1976 Copyright Act set forth voluntary guidelines to address teaching needs. These voluntary guidelines allow teachers to make a single recording of a student performance of copyrighted material for educational or archival purposes. Teachers can also make a single copy of an aural exercise or test. Any other recording requires a license.

Compulsory Mechanical License

  • If a musical work has been recorded for public distribution, the copyright owner is required to license it to anyone who wants to record it. 
  • The Harry Fox Agency (HFA) represents more than 2 million songs for mechanical licensing in the U.S. and has a mechanical licensing tool called Songfile for 25 to 2500 physical recordings (CDs, DVDs, etc.) or for permanent downloads from an Internet server in the U.S. 
  • Licensees must pay a fee (or royalty) to the copyright holder. The current statutory rate is 9.1 cents for songs 5 minutes or shorter, or 1.75 cents per minute or fraction thereof over 5 minutes. 
  • The licensing fee applies to each recording made and distributed. Free copies still require paying a licensing fee. 
  • The licensing fee applies to each musical work on the recording, so a recording with 5 songs incurs 5 royalty fees for each copy distributed. 
  • Recordings made at festivals require mechanical royalties as well. Make sure the festival organizer or sponsor handles royalty payments. 
  • If you hire a company to record a performance, it may offer to handle royalty payments; however, you are ultimately responsible for making sure they’re paid. 


If a work has not previously been recorded, the copyright owner can deny a request to record; it’s not compulsory in that case.

This all may sound daunting, but you’ll find it’s easy once you get started.

As one NAfME forum participant said, “I definitely worry about copyright laws, both because schools and teachers really do get prosecuted and because my husband is a songwriter, which has made me much more sensitive about respecting people’s intellectual property.”

–Linda Brown, September 17, 2008 © National Association for Music Education (