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Copyright Information: Music in the classroom

Musical Works & Sound Recordings

Introduction: Musical Works vs. Sound Recordings

A musical work typically takes the form of sheet music showing the musical score. Musical works are usually available individually or in a collection containing several musical scores. Musical works include both a musical composition and lyrics. A composer and a lyricist may own copyright in their separate contributions to a musical work. Copyright subsists in every musical work, whether published or unpublished, and the MRU Fair Dealing Guidelines apply to both.

It is common for new arrangements to be prepared for musical works that are in the public domain. It is likely that copyright will subsist in a new arrangement.  Any copyright in the new arrangement will not affect the ability to use the original musical work.

When a performance of a musical work is recorded, a sound recording is created. Copyright also subsists in the sound recording, and can include copyright for the composer, lyricists, performers, recording studios and record producers.


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Copying or Distributing Musical Works (Sheet Music) and Sound Recordings

Subject to the safeguards discussed below, under the MRU Fair Dealing Guidelines:

  • A faculty member or administrative staff may copy or distribute a Short Excerpt (up to 10%) of a musical work that is in the form of individual sheet music.
  • If the musical work (sheet music) appears in a book containing other musical works (sheet music), a faculty member or administrative staff may copy or distribute the entire musical work.
  • A faculty member or administrative staff may copy or distribute up to 10% of a sound recording.
  • A faculty member or administrative staff may make a copy of a Short Excerpt of a musical work or a Short Excerpt of a sound recording for inclusion in a classroom presentation or in an LMS.


Copies of Short Excerpts of musical works and sound recordings are only to be provided or otherwise distributed to:

  • students enrolled in a course of study;
  • to other MRU faculty members and administrative staff of the university; and/or
  • to faculty members or students at another university with whom the faculty member is engaged in collaborative research.


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Performing a Musical Work (Sheet Music) and a Sound Recording

The MRU Fair Dealing Guidelines do not apply to the public performance of a musical work or a sound recording. If faculty members and administrative staff wish to do so without the copyright holder's permission, they must comply with section 29.5 of the Copyright Act, which permits faculty members to perform a musical work and a sound recording only if the performance is:

  • before an audience consisting primarily of students, instructors or any person who is directly responsible for setting curriculum at MRU;
  • on MRU premises; and
  • for educational or training purposes.

In addition, with respect to sound recordings, the copy of the recording being played must either (i) not be an infringing copy, or (ii) the person responsible for the performance must have no reasonable grounds to believe that it is an infringing copy.

Note that section 29.5 allows the performance of an entire musical work and sound recording (i.e. you are not limited to a Short Excerpt (up to 10%) of the musical work).


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Effect of a License Agreement

Some electronic versions of musical works and sound recordings can only be accessed because MRU has entered into various license agreements that provide faculty and staff access to electronic versions of musical works and sound recordings. Some license agreements limit how these electronic versions may be copied, distributed or performed by the university (including its faculty and staff). Some licenses also require end users to agree to such limitations. These contractual limitations apply as a separate limitation from the fair dealing exception (including the MRU Fair Dealing Guidelines) and section 29.5.  Therefore, while the Copyright Act may allow certain acts of copying or performance, but if an applicable license prohibits that act, the license must be complied with if you wish to use that licensed version of the Work.


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Music FAQ

Can I play music in class?

If your goal is to achieve an educational or training purpose, then yes, so long as you follow the following rules (which are derived from section 29.5 of the Copyright Act):

  • you are faculty, staff or such other person that is acting under the authority of MRU;
  • the class is taking place on MRU premises;
  • the audience is primarily students in your class;
  • the sound recording is not an infringing copy (e.g. pirated) or the person responsible for the performance has no reasonable grounds to believe that it is an infringing copy; and
  • you do not circumvent a digital lock.

If your purpose is non-educational (e.g. for background music or for a social event), you will need a license (normally issued by SOCAN or Re:Sound). Please contact the MRU Copyright Advisor at for licensing assistance.


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Content on this page has been copied and adapted from the "Copyright at UBC" website, created by the University of British Columbia under a CC BY 4.0 International License.

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If, after browsing this guide, you still have questions or require additional information please contact, or 403.440.6618.

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