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Dear Center for Social Media,

I'm about to start production on a documentary regarding musicians. Is it Fair Use to film a musician rehearsing or playing a piece they have not composed? It will mostly be classical music and some jazz music. I assume if it is a personal composition, I will have no problem. But what if it is a piece of Mozart or Beethoven or something they have not composed?




People often think that music is a special category of Fair Use, but music is subject to the same reasoning and logic that you'll use for any other Fair Use decision. The Documentary Filmmakers' Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use can be your guide. Fair Use decisions are case-by-case, of course, and so you'll look carefully at every scene in which you have to make a decision on this. In general, you'll ask if you are repurposing the original copyrighted work, and whether you are only using enough of it to meet that new purpose. In some cases, music may already be in the public domain (Mozart and Beethoven's work, for instance), although you will want to note whether a particular arrangement is copyrighted; since you are filming people playing that work, and you presumably have a personal release from the musician, you don't need to deal with many filmmakers' headaches--performance and synch rights. Please read the Documentary Filmmakers' Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use carefully. Good luck!

Center for Social Media