Music on Stage: Licensing Grand Rights

The CBC reports that “Arcade Fire music sparks Ottawa school play”:

Students at an Ottawa high school have transformed the music of Montreal indie rock band Arcade Fire into a stage play.

The Neon Bible Project, by students at Canterbury High School, is a performance of movement and dance based on Arcade Fire songs.

The band has given its blessing to the Neon Bible Project, developed by ardent fans.

(The Neon Bible Project maintains its own blog, which provides information on the project and performances.)  Many people will be aware that playing music for an audience in a public place (including in a facility which charges an admission fee, such as a concert hall) triggers the payment of a royalty for the “public performance” of the composition (for which a license from SOCAN is required).  Likely to be less familiar is the need to license so-called “grand rights” when music is used in the fashion contemplated by The Neon Bible Project (ie as an integral part of a dramatic presentation involving such elements as narration, storyline or scenery).

“Grand rights” are the “dramatic performing rights” which are held by the owner of copyright in a composition (other public performance rights are referred to as “small rights”, though actually hearing that term used is relatively rare).  Grand rights are administered separately from other public performance right – thus SOCAN is not able to grant a license for the grand performing rights in a composition.  Generally, the rights are administered directly by the publisher (or the composer).  The Canadian League of Composers offers a helpful guide to grand rights and a checklist of elements which should be present in a grand rights license.  Gordon P. Firemark has also written a short post (from a US perspective) outlining considerations for producers who wish to make use of existing songs in their stage plays.

On a somewhat related note, Brent Giles Davis has written an excellent paper exploring whether and when “tribute bands” need to license grand rights: “Identity Theft: Tribute Bands, Grand Rights and Dramatico-Musical Performances” (24 Cardozo Arts and Entertainment Law Journal 845).  The paper provides a detailed consideration of grand rights and the US caselaw surrounding them.

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Bob Tarantino

About Bob Tarantino

Bob Tarantino is Counsel at Dentons Canada LLP and focuses his practice on the interface between the entertainment industries and intellectual property law, with an emphasis on film and television production, financing, licensing, distribution, and IP acquisition and protection. His clients range from artists and independent producers to Canadian distributors and foreign studios and financiers at every stage of the creative process, from development to delivery and exploitation.

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