Guidance for Schools regarding Non-Exempt Music Usages

U.S Copyright Law, through its school concert provisions (U.S. Copyright Law, Title 17, Section 110), allows for schools to perform the non-dramatic musical works they are teaching in their classrooms or similar place devoted to instruction without needing to obtain licensing to do so. 

Any other public display of music not covered by the above exemption requires licensing from the Performing Rights Organization (PRO) that the rights holder has engaged to secure the performance rights of their work on their behalf.  There are currently three (3) performing rights organizations that schools need to be aware of:  ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC.  Performance rights for music not covered by one of these organizations must be secured individual with that particular rights holder.  Examples of this type of music include – recorded music being played over the loudspeakers during a ballgame; recorded music being played in the hallways between classes; local dance recitals using school facilities, band, choir, and/or orchestras performing at graduation ceremonies, etc.

The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) is working to obtain a solution for its membership on the national level.  This is an ever-changing landscape but presently here are the solutions available:

ASCAP – the NFHS has obtained a national provisional that covers all of the non-exempt music usages that occur in our member schools.  If the music work in question is 100% owned by ASCAP, you need do nothing further.  To find this out – go to, click on the word “Repertory” in the left-hand column. Do a search for the specific title and composer of the music in question.  If any percentage of the work is owned by some other entity you will need to secure the rights/licensing from that entity also in order to display that work.

BMI has a “High School Music License” that covers all of these “non-exempt” music usages for the member high school.  That license can be found here.

SESAC –State associations and schools need to contact SESAC, explain to them what they want to do and gain guidance from them on how they can display their works in the intended manner, legally.