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Music factsheet 11

Copyright and the Dance Teacher


Dance teachers are affected by copyright issues mainly as a result of using music in classes. As soon as you start using music as part of your business - dance teaching - you need to get a licence. This factsheet introduces some of the key concepts and terms in copyright, and how it affects the dance teacher. For Frequently Asked Questions about PRS & PPL licences and the RAD syllabus, please see Factsheet 12.

What does 'in copyright' mean?

In most countries, original musical, dramatic and artistic works are protected by copyright until:

  • 70 years after the creator's death

  • 70 years after the death of the last living contributor in a work created by more than one person

  • 70 years after the death of the arranger, if a work which is otherwise out of copyright (e.g. a folk song or a piece by Mozart) has been arranged, or

  • 25 years after a new edition of an otherwise out of copyright work is published (this is called the 'graphic' or 'typographic right').


For sound recordings, copyright expires 50 years after the date of the recording. Works which are out of copyright are said to be 'in the public domain'.

What does copyright protect and prohibit?

Composers or copyright owners are due royalties each time:

  • Their music is performed

  • Their music is recorded

  • Their music is used in a film

  • Their music is used for a stage play or ballet , and

  • Their music is printed.


Copyright also exists in:

  • Sound recordings, called 'phonographic copyright’ (represented by the ℗ symbol). For more information on this in the UK, refer to Phonographic Performance Ltd (PPL), and

  • Printed music whether original compositions or arrangements. The Music Royal Academy of Dance® is a charity registered in England and Wales No. 312826

Publishers Association in the UK can advise more on this subject.

The things that you cannot do under copyright law are called 'restricted acts' and result in 'copyright infringements'.


Without permission you cannot:

  • Copy, perform or record the work

  • Arrange, adapt or cut the work

  • Adapt the music to a film, play, ballet or other stage work, or

  • Use the music in a way that might denigrate the original intention of the composer


All of the above require a licence. These are processed mainly by licensing bodies. However, when you choreograph to music which is in copyright, you also need to gain permission. You need to do this directly with the publisher or composer.

Which copyright issues might I face when teaching?

If you own a dance school, you generally need two licences to use music:

  • A yearly venue-licence from a performing rights collecting society such as the Performing Right Society (PRS) in the UK, or APRA in Australia etc. (You are only entitled to a waiver on performing rights if all of the music that you play in a class is out of copyright.)

  • A yearly licence from a phonographic rights collecting agency such as Phonographic Performance Ltd in the UK (PPL) or PPCA in Australia. (You don’t need a PPL licence if you never use recorded music in your classes. But, if you play background music in the reception area, for example, you need a PPL and a PRS licence.)


Which are the copyright issues around performance and choreography?

Where you need permission and licences to perform or record music alone (eg in a concert, or an audio recording), you can deal with agencies such as the PRS or MCPS in the UK, or APRS and AMCOS in Australia.

Note: Your licence to play music in a theatre does not mean that you automatically have permission to perform a ballet to it without the consent of the composer or publisher.

To choreograph to copyrighted music, you need to negotiate directly with the composer or publisher of the work. They will negotiate a fee, based on the type of performance and size of the theatre.

What if I don't comply?

It is always best that you allow enough time to apply for a licence before public performance. If not, you may face one of the following scenarios:

  • Worst case: fines, court cases, impounding of materials, or an injunction preventing you from continuing your business or show

  • Fairly bad: you invest time and money in a project which has to be scrapped at Royal Academy of Dance® is a charity registered in England and Wales No. 312826 the last minute for copyright reasons

  • Common: you will be charged more retrospectively for using music than if you had gone through the proper channels in the first place

What sort of permissions problems might I have?


  • The music for Ashton's Monotones is by Satie (d.1925), and is therefore out of copyright. Two of the sections were orchestrated by Debussy (d. 1918), and are also out of copyright. The rest of the score is orchestrated by Roland-Manuel and John Lanchbery, both of whom are still in copyright.

  • Due to the Copyright Term Extension Act (1998) in the USA, many Russian works, including selections from Prokofiev’s Romeo & Juliet and Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring which were previously non-copyright in the US (but in copyright elsewhere), have now gone back into copyright.

What do I need to do?

If you use music for dance teaching, make sure that you have:

  • A venue licence for performing rights (e.g. a PRS licence)

  • A licence to play recorded music, or music in TV or radio programmes (e.g. a PPL licence)

  • Checked that the buildings you have hired have the required licences. Do not assume that people are correct when they tell you that they're 'covered'.

If you use music for choreography and performance:

  • Check whether the music you want to use is in copyright or not.

  • If it is, contact the publishers or the composer directly. They will want to know how many performances you intend to do, how many seats the theatre holds, and what proportion of the evening your piece occupies.

  • If you want to make cuts or arrangements to the score, you will need to send these to the publisher or composer for approval.

  • If you are using a recording, you will need to contact the record company for a licence.

  • When commissioning a composer, make sure that all fees, royalties, and permissions have been agreed in writing long in advance of the first performance. Note: If you are performing a choreographic work which is not yours, the choreography is copyrighted. You will have to seek permission and pay for this.

Are there any exemptions?

Music in dance classes is not covered by the proviso of ‘fair use’ which otherwise allows works to be used in research, education, or in private. Choreography may be performed to Royal Academy of Dance® is a charity registered in England and Wales No. 312826 music without permission, but only in the company of students and staff in a lesson not in public performance.

The Mechanical Copyright Protection Society (MCPS) has developed a Limited Manufacture Licence, to enable teachers, schools, videographers and amateur groups to copy music for non-professional use. They can also licence professional dance teachers who copy music as an accompaniment for their classes.

In Australia, AMCOS/ARIA have a 'Dance Schools Licence' enabling teachers to make recordings of music for class and for home practice. This involves an annual fee based on the number of enrolled students.

Where can I find further information?