Unlike most educators, music educators must face copyright compliance frequently throughout their career. Although the thought of copyright can be intimidating and a complex subject, NAfME has a multitude of resources that can help you better understand U.S. copyright law.

Quick Links:

Main Resources

  • The Basics of Copyright for Music Educators – A Presentation by NAfME
    • Members of NAfME’s Public Policy and Advocacy staff often provide distance learning and in-person orientation opportunities for music educators.  This includes a session on the basics of copyright for music educators.  You can access the slides to our copyright presentation here.
    • If you are interested in having a member of our Public Policy staff present about copyright compliance at your state MEA conference or school district professional development training, please contact us at
  • TEACH Act Explained – Copyright Guidance for Distance Learning
    • The Technology, Education, and Copyright Harmonization (TEACH) Act provides certain protections for distance learning. NAfME, in collaboration with the NFHS, has created a new resource to help teachers better understand the copyright implications of using music in a distance learning environment which provides analysis on the TEACH Act and addresses frequently asked questions in this space.

  • Copyright Permissions for Performance
    • This resource speaks directly to varying performance situations, including virtual methods that have become common during the pandemic. The document also indicates what permissions are required in different performance situations, plus where and how those permissions can be obtained.
  • NAfME Academy
    • NAfME Academy is a brand new, state-of-the-art online learning platform for music educators. The Academy allows educators to access the relevant professional development they need to further enhance their teaching and serve the needs of students through dynamic and effective materials and learning opportunities.  This includes several webinars on copyright compliance for music educators. 
  • NFHS & NAfME
    • NAfME recently partnered with the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) to produce an extensive copyright compliance course that is specific for music educators.  You can access the course for free on NFHS’ Learning Center – – followed with searching the term, “copyright.”

Licensing Information

Songfile® — The Harry Fox Agency’s Songfile is an easy and fast way for those who plan to make and distribute 2,500 copies or less of their recordings to obtain the necessary mechanical licenses for cover versions of songs. Licenses can be obtained for CDs, cassettes, LPs, or permanent digital downloads. Under U.S. Copyright law, recordings of student performances must be properly licensed.

The MPA encourages its publishers that are not already HFA affiliates to register their catalogs for mechanical licensing through Songfile and also provides marketing support. Through Songfile, educators can obtain licenses for CDs, cassettes, LPs, and permanent digital downloads from HFA’s entire database of over 2.3 million songs in all genres. Licensing royalties from Songfile are paid to publishers on a commission-free basis.

Executives from the leading music education, mechanical licensing, and serious/educational music publishing organizations, The Harry Fox Agency (HFA), the National Association for Music Education, The Music Teachers National Association (MTNA), and the Music Publishers’ Association (MPA) have formed an unprecedented collaboration to connect America’s music educators with the music catalogs they need to license when they record student performances. 

Performance Rights for NAfME members

Through an agreement with ASCAP and BMI, NAfME (or MEA) sponsored groups are granted performance rights of music managed by these organizations. (This covers only performances sponsored by NAfME or federated state associations of NAfME.) However, if members wish to record their students’ performance of any work, permission must be obtained through Harry Fox Agency. For more information, see NAfME Member Benefit Eases Performance Licensing or visit the Harry Fox Agency  or the National Music Publishers’ Association.

Music Licensing and Publishing Organizations

Music Publishers’ Association of the United States — Includes a Copyright Resource Center which offers forms needed to obtain permission to arrange music, copy out-of-print music, or report a copyright violation. Also offers documents on copyright issues and a list of additional Web links, and an FAQ section.

Music Library Association’s Copyright Guide — Includes a list of online resources and an excellent FAQ section.

The Harry Fox Agency — HFA was established by the National Music Publishers’ Association to provide an information source, clearinghouse, and monitoring service for licensing musical copyrights. HFA licenses the largest percentage of the uses of music in the United States on CDs, digital services, records, tapes, and imported phonorecords. See HFA’s Licensing and FAQ lists.

ASCAP — Information on copyright and performing rights.

BMI — Please see the Music Licensing General FAQs.

Understanding Copyright Law

The United States Copyright Law: A Guide for Music Educators — A brief history of the 1976 revision of copyright law, rights (and limitations of these rights) of copyright owners, copyright duration, penalties for infringement, plus resources for duplicating out-of-print works; arranging, performing and recording rights; and fair use guidelines. Revised 2003. 

Mechanical Licensing & You: What You Need to Know Before Recording Your School’s Performances.”

Licensing and Other Copyright Questions — You know you need some kind of permission for using other people’s music in your classes. So what do you do next?

Here are some articles on copyright of interest to music teachers:

Helpful Links

Fair Use and Copyright Law

The United States Copyright Office — The U.S. Copyright Office site contains a great deal of information on copyright law and pending legislation. They have several publications available including brochures, fact sheets, and reports and studies, as well as an FAQ section.

Stanford University Libraries on Copyright & Fair Use — Information on copyright issues including current legislation, additional resources, and an overview of copyright law.

Public Domain Information

Public Domain Music — A reference site to help identify public domain songs and public domain music  

Frequently Asked Questions

Must a student purchase a second piece of music for his or her accompanist?
Accompanists must have original music to play from. Copying a single page to alleviate a difficult page turn can be justified, but copying the entire work is copyright infringement.

During juries and/or recitals, if a student has the original and the faculty wants to follow along with the music for assessment and grading purposes, may copies be made?
Copying may be permissible, but ONLY if permission is granted by the copyright holders. Write to the publisher and explain your situation. Make sure to get the permission in writing. And remember, unauthorized photocopies are copyright infringements.

(If permission is not granted, perhaps students could borrow copies among their peers, from their teachers, or at a music library.)

I’m doing research on a topic related to the effects of music on children and want to use a particular CD. Do I need to purchase a CD for each participant, or can I simply purchase one and make copies?
Copyright for music and recordings is no different than it is for books or plays. Buying only one CD and making copies is a copyright infringement. To use a CD for research purposes, contact the copyright holders to receive permission. More information can be obtained from the Music Publishers Association.

Can our band legally sell videotaped copies of its concerts?
A single copy of a videotaped performance of your ensemble can be made to keep on file for reference or review. If you want to make multiple copies and distribute them, either with or without charge, you will need permission of the copyright owners for each piece of music performed on the videotape. You will also need permission from parents to have their children videotaped.

Is a public school district allowed to use recorded music of one of their school ensembles in a publication? The publication may be a TV advertisement or a CD for a business in the area. The music would be purchased according to copyright. 
The school must license the music properly with a synchronization license and a mechanical license. Mechanical licenses are available from the Harry Fox Agency. For synchronization licenses, contact the publisher directly (publisher information is available on the ASCAPBMI, and SESAC sites). If another business is used, make sure that business is responsible for all licensing. Also, be sure to check local law regulations. 

Find more information on these questions and other copyright issues in the MEA Managers Webinar on Copyright.

Teaching Your Students about Copyright

Creativity in the Classroom — A program designed to encourage students to respect intellectual property and develop a greater awareness of the value of their creative work in a variety of subject areas. Lessons demonstrate how students can label their creative work with the copyright symbol, the year, and their name, just as they see on any published, professional creative work. — The National Music Council and Music Publishers Association created this innovative curriculum on the importance of respecting creators’ rights. It includes a video, lesson plan, guided discussion, a storyboard, and poster tips.


ESSA & Copyright

The music community most closely associates the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015, or ESSA, as the first piece of federal legislation to enumerate music as part of a “Well-Rounded Education.”  However, tucked within the immense K-12 education law are minor statutes that prescribe a goal to educate students and parents about “the harms of copyright piracy.”

Our Advocacy Bulletin Blog outlines what these section of the law mean and how it affects music educators. 

Note: NAfME does not presume to give legal advice. If you have technical questions about possible legalities of a copyright, speak to your school’s principal or district’s music supervisor for advice on legal counsel, or contact Harry Fox Agency or the Music Publishers’ Association.

Presented By
National Association for Music Education
ASCAP Foundation
Copyright Society of the USA
Music Teachers National Association
National Association of Secondary School Principals
National Association of Elementary School Principals
National School Boards Association
U.S. Register of Copyrights
American Bar Association