Is creating a musical arrangement of a copyrighted song for use in my school curriculum illegal? For example, I want to arrange the Pirates of the Carribean theme for solo piano and give that arrangement to my students as a project they would work on over a semester. Student assessment would be based on understanding of structural components in the piece, biography of the composer, and performance of the piece in a private setting. Is this regarded as trans-formative in the fair use exemptions? These arrangements and transcriptions would be only used for educational purposes.
Copyright includes at least the exclusive rights to reproduce the copyrighted work in copies, to prepare derivative works based on the copyrighted work, and to distribute copies of the copyrighted work to the public by at least sale, and it appears you may be doing one or all of these and you may be liable for copyright infringement.
However, see: https://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ21.pdf
You should discuss with an intellectual property attorney in a private consultation.
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There's no absolute answer. Fair use considers the nature of the copyrighted work, the proportion taken, purpose of the use and any negative effect on the market for the original. Because your use is educational and distribution will be limited, you might be OK. You could also investigate if there are any public policies published by the copyright owner that permit such a use. If you ask them, though, and they say "no" and you go ahead anyway you have a problem.
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Fair use is a thorny question, and the courts consider it, they look at each of the 4 factors set out in section 107 of the Copyright Act and they balance them. So here, for example, the nature of your intended use is educational and in a school setting, so that factor is in your favor. But the nature of the work is expressive and the proportion of the work taken is 100%, so the factors would be in the composition author's. The effect on the market is considered the most important factor, and here, it's not clear how that factor would be resolved.
Consult your school' district's legal department.
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There is a specific exemption to the copyright law for non-profit educational institutions when the content is used within the classroom learning environment. So if by school you mean something like a public school and you are only using the content in the scope of the class room exercises and not for public performances, etc. then you probably need not worry further about it.
If you do not fall within that niche exception then as noted a fair use analysis would need to be done. But it is important to understand that this is not the kind or nature of infringement that is commonly policed by copyright holders so your exposure here is very low.
If you need clarification, I suggest that you consult with a lawyer in private and discuss your objectives in more detail. You can start by calling around to several for a free phone consultation, get some insights then pick the best fit to work with.
DISCLAIMER: this is not intended to be specific legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. No attorney-client relationship is formed with the law firm of Natoli-Legal, LLC on the basis of this posting.
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