Volume 117, Number 3, Fall 1990
COPYRIGHT, A MORAL PROBLEM
Monsignor Richard J. Schuler
The United States government in the copyright law of 1976 has established
protection for composers and publishers in the face of the great growth of
copying machines which constitute an ever-present temptation to duplicate
copies of printed, published music. The laws protecting the rights of
composers and publishers are enforced by grave penalties and heavy fines
leveled against those who violate the statutes knowingly or even
But there is more involved here than mere penal laws. It is not simply a
matter of not being caught. For a person with a rightly formed conscience,
there is the basic question of justice, the giving to each person his due.
This binds in conscience, and violations of the law are offenses against
one's neighbor and therefore against God. Injustice is involved, and
restitution is demanded for the loss suffered and the rights infringed
upon. As Christians and church musicians, dedicated to the service of God
in His worship, we must not be involved in actions that are contrary to God
and His justice, the very God whom we profess to adore.
Recently the Music Publishers' Association of the United States (130 West
57th Street, New York, N.Y. 10019) issued some concise summaries of the
copyright laws. These are available from that organization. One has an
obligation to inform himself in these matters. Ignorance of the law is no
excuse for violation of it. Our American bishops have repeatedly reminded
us of the duty of obedience in copyright matters. Court cases directed
against the Church because of copyright infringements have been costly.
Briefly, according to the MPA summaries, when can one photocopy?
1. Emergency copying to replace purchased copies which for any
reason are not available for an imminent performance, provided
it is replaced with a purchased copy.
2. For academic purposes other than performance, multiple copies
of excerpts of works may be made, provided that the excerpts do
not comprise a part of the whole which would constitute a
performable unit such as a section, movement or aria, but in no
case more than 10% of the whole work. The number of copies shall
not exceed one copy per pupil.
3. Printed copies which have been purchased may be edited or
simplified provided that the fundamental character of the work
is not distorted or the lyrics, if any, altered or lyrics added
if none exist.
4. A single copy or recording of performance by students may be
made for evaluation or rehearsal purposes and may be retained by
the educational institution or individual teacher.
5. A single copy of a sound recording (such as a tape, disc or
cassette) of copyrighted music may be made from sound recordings
owned by an educational institution or an individual teacher for
the purpose of constructing aural exercises or examinations and
may be retained by the educational institution or individual
teacher. (This pertains only to the copyright of the music
itself and not to any copyright which may exist in the sound
When may I not photocopy?
1. Copying to avoid purchase.
2. Copying music for any kind of performance, with the following
emergency exception: making a copy of a lost part in an
emergency, if it is replaced with a purchased part in due
3. Copying without including copyright notice.
4. Copying to create anthologies or compilations.
5. Reproducing material designed to be consumable, such as
workbooks, standarized tests and answer sheets.
6. Charging customers beyond the actual cost involved in making
copies as permitted.
In the ultimate analysis, copyright means that no one but the copyright
owner has the right to copy without permission. We must obey the law which
binds not only under pain of the penalty incurred, but under pain of the
injustice performed and the restitution demanded. The obligation lies in
the seventh commandment: Thou shalt not steal!