A copyright is not an absolute right. The law places limitations on copyrights in the interest of creativity and free flow of information. Some limitations on exclusive rights are common to all works, while others are specific to musical works and sound recordings. Limitations on copyright in musical compositions and sound recordings can be placed under three broad categories: exemptions from exclusive rights, compulsory licenses and fair use. Before talking about the limitations on copyrights in musical works and sound recordings, we should mention one limitation applicable to all kinds of works.
The First Sale Doctrine
This doctrine embodies a limitation on the distribution right. Under this doctrine, a person who purchases a copy of a copyrighted work can sell, lend or lease that copy without the permission of the copyright owner. This provision does not apply to the rental or leasing of sound recordings. However, sound recordings can be rented or leased for non-profit purposes by a non-profit library or educational institution. This provision responds to concerns that the first sale doctrine would enable people to rent a record and copy it on to a blank tape thereby displacing record sales.
An exemption to an exclusive right means that the user does not need permission from the copyright owner to use the work. Exemptions to copyrights in music and sound recordings apply to the public performance right. Certain performances like those that happen in the course of teaching in a classroom, instructional and religious broadcasts, and non-profit performances are exempted from the scope of the performance right.
The law also permits restaurants, offices, malls and other establishments to play music in the background without the permission of the copyright owner. In order to qualify for this exemption establishments have to meet three conditions:
- They have to come within specified square footage.
- They should not use more than six speakers or four monitors to enhance the transmission.
- The performance should originate from an FCC licensed radio station or television station