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What is "Fair Use", and How Does it Apply to Sheet Music?

When it comes to sheet music and copyright laws, there are a lot of things that you must consider before using a song or arrangement for any purpose such as performance or distribution.  However, what does the law say about more common, every day practices such as singing “Happy Birthday” to your sister or putting the songs from your CD onto your MP3 player so that you can listen to them while you jog every morning?  What about your saxophone teacher making a tape recording of you practicing a popular (and very copyrighted) song so that the instructor can evaluate the recording later?


All of these are instances where the “fair use” law might apply.  The law is very vague and difficult to interpret, but basically states that there are some minor exceptions to copyright laws to enable people to use copyrighted material for special circumstances.  While the list of exceptions that this law provides is long (and generally not very conclusive), there are some instances where has been proven permissible to go around copyright laws in certain circumstances (for example, if you are a music student and need an emergency photocopy of copyrighted sheet music for a performance, you can copy the music provided you purchase an additional copy afterwards).  As with the interpretation of any law, the safest advice is to consult a lawyer who specializes in copyright infringement law to get a professional opinion.