09 Sep

Sitting in a Diocesan administrator’s meeting, I was enjoying a presentation by a principal of a marketing video produced at his school that highlighted his choir singing a beloved Christmas carol. He explained that the video was prepared with minimal expense, using an iPhone to capture the angelic voices. Perhaps the most expensive part of the project was the performance license needed to distribute the copyrighted carol. I made a note to check with Heidi Taylor on our compliance with intellectual property law.

As I expected, Mrs. Taylor confirmed that our music was purchased and used in compliance with copyright law. It was when we were preparing for the Saint Mary’s choir to sing with the Richmond Symphony, and Mrs. Taylor explained the intricacies of legally performing some of our favorite Christmas music and the steps she had to take to insure proper acknowledgement and compensation to the creative artists who wrote, arranged and produced the music that would be used.

I was reminded of a story told by Mrs. Hazel Lewane, former principal of Saint Mary’s, about a visit by three dark-suited representatives of the Disney corporation requesting removal of an image of a Disney character depicted on one of our walls. Mrs. Lewane described to me the penalties these men threatened if the image was not immediately removed, and the consequences of copyright infringement. Needless to say, Mrs. Lewane had the image painted over by the end of the day. School administrators are well aware of the ramifications of copyright infringements and the consequences to those who do not adhere to very strict law and guidelines for the use of intellectual property.

Shortly after, I was enjoying Saint Mary’s students dancing to the music of my youth (classic rock and roll) and the depiction of beloved cartoon characters during our traditional annual Musical Revue. The energy was palpable, the audience engaged, and there was little doubt that all were enjoying the performance. I made a note to check on our compliance with intellectual property law.

Turns out, over the decades, the musical revue evolved over the years, and copyright infringement was simply never addressed. Year after year, volunteers duplicated what was done in the previous year without ever suspecting that copyright issues needed to be addressed. It was never an intention to violate intellectual property rights, it was just a matter of paying attention to the experience the students would have, and not focusing on the source of inspiration for the dances (music) and performance (themes).

Recognizing the cost of properly licensing the performance, the need to learn the necessary steps to obtaining licenses and permissions, and the complexity of intellectual property law, the Musical Revue was placed on hiatus. Fortunately, the 50th anniversary year of Saint Mary’s school provides lots of opportunities to find alternative activities to fill in during this hiatus. During the hiatus, those wishing to reprise a musical revue or similar performance will need to propose an activity that addresses the many issues raised by applicable intellectual property rights.

A very special thank you to the countless number of volunteers who tirelessly worked to provide opportunities for our students to grow in confidence, enjoy the stage, and perform for family and friends. Students have many great memories of their participation in the musical revue, memories that have been supported by the love and guidance of directors, choreographers, stage hands and helpers who have given so freely of their time and talent. Bravo!