The high (copyright) cost of “Glee”

How do you know the popular TV show is fiction? Because if a real-life high school glee club in Lima, Ohio were actually basing its performances on contemporary material without employing a small army of rights-clearers and paying heftily in royalties, it could face copyright damage demands approaching a million dollars:

Defenders of modern copyright law will argue Congress has struck “the right balance” between copyright holders’ interests and the public good. They’ll suggest the current law is an appropriate compromise among interest groups. But by claiming the law strikes “the right balance,” what they’re really saying is that the Glee kids deserve to be on the losing side of a lawsuit. Does that sound like the right balance to you?

[Christina Mulligan, Yale Law School Information Society Project via Katherine Mangu-Ward, Reason] More: Legal Blog Watch, A Foolish Consistency.


  • I’m an active member in a synagogue and we take great pains to get clearance for any music that’s used during a service, any movie we show, etc.

    While people like to make a big deal out of “girl scout troops being sued” it is a big issue for people who write or arrange music.

    People who write music for worship services, for example, have a hard time getting paid. Many people believe that because they’re a “non-profit”, or a Church, that they don’t have to pay. But how do you expect anyone to make a living writing worship music? (I suppose it’s easier for Chr-stians, who can always get “forgiven” for any action…)

    It’s actually not that hard to license music for a school theatre group. You just go to a site like and you can rent it! It’s not like it’s impossible to do.

  • You left out the “i” in Christian, Robert.

  • you know, i think we should strongly consider a “school performance” exception to all of these copyright laws. i mean literally make it that. if you are in k-12, you can perform it live before your school, so long as you aren’t like recording it and distributing it.

    That, and we can pass laws allowing the copyright holders to let a few things like this slide without endangering their property. that is part of the problem, too. IP holders are almost legally required to act like jerks to protect their property, because if they let a school perform a given song, next thing you know, a cover band can take it without permission.

  • Schools have to pay for the textbooks and software their students use, right? I’m willing to be persuaded that the rules for copyrighted music should be different, but I don’t intuitively see why that should be the case.

  • Chris, Jews leave out the vowels when they write a name of G_d. G_d’s name is too holy to write.

  • “People who write music for worship services, for example, have a hard time getting paid.”

    I blame Powerpoint. Before you had to buy a Hymn book for each seat in the auditorium. The cost of the song was built into the song book. Now songs can be typed up from memory and beamed onto a screen without paying.

    I am assuming the people who do special music also buy sheet music and perform from that, but I could be wrong. All the sheet music I’ve ever seen had ASCAP stuff on it.

  • When we have a movie night at school we have to purchase a license to show it. $75 a license that is good for that one movie on that one day. This applies whether it’s a movie being shown to one class or the whole school Outdoor showings are prohibited. We also have a choice to purchase a one year, any movies, any dates license for between $400-$500…

  • “But how do you expect anyone to make a living writing worship music?”

    Same way they did before the modern expansion of the performance right.

  • Yeah, Chr-s! 🙂

    Anyway, there are a lot of people who write choral arrangements for schools, etc. It would be unfair to have a “school exemption” because it would simply put them out of business….

  • But how do you expect anyone to make a living writing worship music?

    Many churches hold the idea that it is wrong to charge what God has given a person. We can debate the merits of that all day, but there is a school of thought that says when a person writes a worship song that they claim was inspired by God, they don’t have a right to charge for it’s use.

    The odd thing is that I have never met a song writer, or artist who has ever cared about this. My church puts out praise and worship albums as well as albums for groups and individuals. We have never had an artist not allow the use of a song on a CD, nor have they ever asked for royalties from it. (Our artists do the same thing – if someone wants to use a song they wrote on an album, they have the artist’s permission.)

    It is usually the record company that raises the stink – not the artist. Of course, it can be said that the record company does not have the same interest as the artist, but that is another discussion.

    I have seen the agreement, but not read it, that our church has to cover “praise and worship” songs as well as “cover” versions of songs used in services. It is a general agreement that covers the use of the songs in a specific venue. It is similar to the same agreements bars and nightclubs have for live music. The bar pays a fee and the bands can do cover songs of other people’s works.

  • If this show had been made in the 80’s it probably would not be released on DVD. In fact, a similar show, called ‘Kids Incorporated’, actually WAS made in the 80’s and early 90’s but will not see the light of day on DVD for reasons of copyright.
    The rights to the show itself are split between three different companies, plus there are performance rights to the music that would need to be sorted out.