ASCAP members grant to ASCAP only the right to license nondramatic performances of the members' copyrighted musical works. Thus, an ASCAP license does not authorize dramatic performances of our members' works. “Dramatic”(often referred to as "grand") rights in musical works are licensed by the composer or publisher, or other licensing agent for the work. Traditionally, in dramatic works, the main motivation is the telling of a story and the music serves to enhance the drama. This was thought to increase the economic value of the music, leading the rightsholders of the music to conclude that they could derive greater benefit if they controlled the licensing of the works themselves.
Copyright law does not define the terms "dramatic" or "nondramatic." As a result, rightsholders, music users and occasionally the federal courts must attempt to draw the line between "dramatic" and "nondramatic"performances. That line is often unclear and depends on the facts pertaining to a particular performance. As a general rule a dramatic performance usually involves using the work to tell a story or as part of a story or plot. Thus, when songs are employed as part of a dramatic production -- a Broadway musical such as "Jersey Boys" or in a ballet such as Twyla Tharp's "Nine Sinatra Songs," for example -- the performances of the music are dramatic and are beyond the scope of an ASCAP license.
Other examples of dramatic performances include the following:
-- performance of an entire (or substantially complete) "dramatico-musical work" that includes songs written for that work. For example, a performance of the musical play "Oklahoma" would be a dramatic performance, as would a performance of all or substantially all of the songs written for the play. This includes both staged performances and broadcasts of the work, whether audio-visual or audio-only (as by playing all or a substantial part of an original cast album over radio). The term "dramatico-musical work" includes, but is not limited to, a musical comedy, opera, play with music, revue or ballet.
-- performance of one or more musical compositions from a "dramatico-musical work" accompanied by dialogue, pantomime, dance, stage action, or visual representation of the work from which the music is taken. For example, a performance of the song "People Will Say We're In Love" from "Oklahoma" with costumes, sets,stage action or dialogue from the show would also be a dramatic performance.
-- performance of one or more musical compositions, whether or not such composition (or compositions) is (or are) from a "dramatico-musical work," as part of a story or plot, whether accompanied or unaccompanied by dialogue, pantomime, dance, stage action or visual representation. For example, incorporating a live or recorded performance of "People Will Say We're In Love" into a story or plot -- even though the story or plot is unrelated to "Oklahoma" -- would result in a dramatic performance of the song. Similarly, incorporating a live or recorded performance of "Eleanor Rigby" into a story or plot -- even though the composition was not originally written for a musical play -- would also result in a dramatic performance of the song.
-- performance of a concert version of a "dramatico-musical work." For example, a performance of all of the songs written for "Oklahoma" even without costumes, sets, props or dialoguefrom the musical play would be a dramatic performance of the songs.
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The "nondramatic" public performances of musical compositions that ASCAP licenses on behalf of its members include, for example, recordings of songs that are broadcast on radio (other than an entire -- or substantially complete -- recording of a dramatico-musical work), songs or background music performed as part of a movie or other television program, or live or recorded performances of musical compositions in a bar, restaurant, hotel, store or other place open to the public.
Additional examples of "nondramatic" and "dramatic" performances include:
-- in the course of a cabaret show, revue, or a concert with a major orchestra presented without costumes, sets, props, stage action, or dialogue, a singer sings songs from several Broadway musical plays, including a medley of three songs from the play "Miss Saigon": nondramatic performances of the songs from the play.
-- a stage presentation -- at one of the Las Vegas hotels, for example -- in which performances of medleys of three songs from several different Broadway shows are given accompanied by costumes and props resembling those of the original Broadway productions, with perhaps some dialogue as well: dramatic performances of the songs.
-- a stage presentation that features the songs of a single songwriter or songwriting team: likely a dramatic performance (at least one court has characterized such performances as an example of the exercise of a kind of grand right, called the "cavalcade right," requiring the permission of the owners of the copyrights in the songs being performed).
-- a dance company presents a ballet set to songs by Billy Joel: dramatic performance.
-- an orchestra performs Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet" ballet music in concert: non-dramatic performance.
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Whenever there is doubt as to whether specific performances of musical works might be considered to be dramatic or nondramatic, ASCAP encourages the music user to contact the rightsholders directly to get their view. If the rightsholders are of the view that the performances are dramatic, they will decide whether or not to license the performances directly (or at all). In some instances, ASCAP's members may wish to license the performances directly even if they are not clearly dramatic performances. The rights ASCAP obtains from its members are nonexclusive, so that members retain the right to license directly performances of their works whether or not they are dramatic in nature. Information as to the rightsholders of works in the ASCAP repertory can be obtained from the ASCAP website, www.ascap.com (click on the "ACE / Repertory" button) or by telephone, (800) 952-7227.