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Copyright Complications in Compilations, Music, Images

Many works involve complex rights in copyright law. Complex works can include copyrighted material from many contributors, multiple types of content or images, and all of which may have different copyright owners.

Examples of these complications include:

  1. Scenarios in which there are many copyright elements, such as a magazine or publication which may incorporate text, photographic images, graphic designs, illustrations, reprinted text, or graphs. 
  2. Scenarios in which there are many different rights in one work. Consider songs which generally break down into rights for the lyricist, rights for the composer, and rights for the publisher. In many cases there may be multiple composers and lyricists. 
  3. Scenarios in which there are many owners of copyright. Think of book compilations or anthologies in which each chapter is a distinct author. Copyright law may be complex in these situations because works which are free to use may be combined with works that are restricted from use by copyright or trademark protections. 


A compilation may include the copyrighted work of multiple owners. Examples of compilations include:

  • Periodicals
  • Databases
  • Anthologies
  • Audio-visual works
  • Web pages

A compilation may involve many copyrights

A compilation or collective work is form of expression that arises from combining a selection of separate elements, such as a web page, an issue of a journal, or a database.

If the selection or arrangement of materials in the compilation is original, the compilation can be protected by copyright, in addition to any copyrights that may exist in individual components in the compilation. The copyright in a compilation is independent from, and does not expand or diminish, any copyright that may exist in any of the components.

Using works from compilations

In a compilation, such as an anthology or journal publication, there may be a copyright notice that indicates the publisher is the owner of the work.

Publisher may not own all rights for all uses
Even though there may be a copyright statement printed in a work, this does not mean that the publisher owns every element of the publication. The publisher may not have obtained an assignment of ownership of the individual components to include them in the compilation; the publisher may have obtained only a license to use the work in that particular manner.

If ownership is hard to determine
If you want to use part of a compilation, it may be difficult, if not impossible to ascertain who owns what from just the copyright notice in this situation. You may need to contact the publisher or entity listed as the owner of a compilation to determine the ownership status of various elements of the work and then contact individual authors to obtain permissions, if required.

Specify what is needed
When dealing with a compilation or collection of materials, it is important to specify exactly what it is you wish to use so that you can identify who holds the rights you may need.

Compilations and public domain

Many compilations are created from public domain materials.

Public domain materials are not eligible for copyright protection, even if they are republished in a new format that is original.

For a compilation using public domain materials, this means that individual elements of a compilation do not have copyright protection and so any copyright on the collection would be on the original arrangement or selection of the materials.

As an example, think about the work of Shakespeare. A copyright on an anthology of Shakespearean plays might exist which covers the original selection and arrangement of Shakespeare’s work but that protection would not extend to the actual writings of Shakespeare which are in the public domain. 


If you wish to use music in a multimedia project or web page, or play music (either live or recorded) at a public event or in the classroom, you need to determine if you need a license and if so, from whom.

Music may have multiple copyrights:

  • Composition
  • Lyrics
  • Recording by an artist

Using music may involve many licenses:

Rights in music

There are separate copyrights for

  • Musical compositions (written music and lyrics)
  • Recordings of performances of compositions (vocal or instrumental)

Standard industry practice is that songwriters retain the rights to their compositions (usually the composer and lyricist jointly hold the rights), while recording studios generally own the rights for the recordings performed by various artists.

Music licenses

Associations handle much of music licensing, and many rights may be obtained through blanket and compulsory licensing schemes. If you are seeking rights to music that is not licensed through established channels, clearing rights could involve separate negotiations with song writers, heirs, agents, publishers, recording studios, and/or performing rights agencies.

Using music at UW

In the classroom
A specific exemption within the law allows for the performance of music by either live or recorded means in the course of face-to-face teaching activities in a classroom at non-profit educational institutions. No additional permissions are required for this use. For use of sheet music for academic study, instruction, and emergency copying for imminent performance, the guidelines for educational uses of music may be helpful.

Performing or playing music at events
Performing music for any group beyond the normal family circle generally requires a public performance license. Most public performance rights are administered through performing rights associations such as the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI), and the Society of European Stage Authors and Composers (SESAC).

Public performing license

UW has obtained public performance licenses with each of these agencies and faculty, students, and staff may play or perform music covered by these licenses at UW events without obtaining separate performance rights permission.

Determine Coverage
To determine if your musical selections and performance are covered by the licenses, you’ll need to see if one of the agencies manages the rights for your selections by checking the online catalogs for BMIASCAP, and SESAC.

Check License
Once you determine that your music is covered by one of these agencies, check the licenses to see if your use is covered.

TV Broadcast Not Covered
The public performance licenses do not include digital uses or televised broadcasts. If you intend to use music for these or other purposes not covered the licenses, or if you wish to use music that is not in the catalogs of these agencies, you may need to seek permission to use the work by contacting the composer or recording studio.

Broadcasting music via radio, television, or internet

Broadcasting music via UW radio stations is covered by UW’s public performance licenses for all works in covered by the licenses.

Not Covered
Broadcasting music in connection with UWTV or other televised programs and using music on web pages is not covered UW’s public performance licenses and separate permission may be required.

In addition to a performance rights license, licenses may be required to synchronize music with images and broadcast these works.

Using music in audio-visual productions

Movie, Slide Show, or Video
If you intend to use music in a timed relation with a visual work (such as a movie, slide show, or video) you may need to obtain a synchronization license from the music publisher.

Sync Rights
Synchronization licenses are commonly known as “sync rights” and are used extensively in the motion picture and television industries. Depending on the use of the work, you may need both a performance license and a synchronization license.

Sync licenses may or may not be required for multimedia applications where music may be included in a work, but not necessarily in a timed relation to visual works. If you intend to use music in this manner, other licenses may be required. These licenses may be obtained from the music publisher or through the Music Publishers Association, which grants rights through the Harry Fox Agency, or similar agency.

Making a recording of a published composition

Making a new recording of a musical composition exercises the copyright owner’s exclusive work to reproduce the work. Obtaining rights for this purpose is through a mechanical license. Mechanical licenses are part of a compulsory licensing scheme defined in the Copyright Act and require a payment of royalties from sales of copies of the recording.

Publishing music

A music publishing license may be required to create printed sheet music from copyrighted compositions. This type of license may be required if you intend to reproduce sheet music in a multimedia or web page application.

Images of Art and People

Images may involve many rights:

  • Copyright in photograph
  • Copyright in subject
  • Trademarks in subject
  • Personality rights if people are depicted


Images of art are an important element in many courses of instruction and images of art are popular subjects for multimedia works.

Photographs of art

If you are interested in using photographs of art, it is important to consider that there may be a copyright in the photograph as well as a copyright in the artwork depicted in the photograph. If both works are still protected by copyright and your use requires permission, you may need to seek permission from both the owner of the rights in the photograph and the owner of the rights in the art.

Public domain

If the subject of a photograph is in the public domain, can the photograph be digitized and used freely? Possibly, but you do not assume that to be the case.

For example, consider a photograph of a painting by Monet. The original painting is in the public domain, however the photograph may be covered by copyright. 

Although copyright in an original artwork may have expired, the owner of the physical copy of the work may control access to the work and control how images of the work may be used. For example, a museum may not allow the general public to photograph paintings in its collection and may own the copyrights in the photographs it authorizes and as such, would have the exclusive right to allow derivatives or other adaptations of the photograph.

Consult guidelines
Guidelines for the acquisition and use of images in non-profit educational visual resources collections have been developed by the Visual Resources Association and may be helpful if you are planning to use images of art in your course or project.


Subject matter of photographs may also include company names or logos and these should be used carefully. Even if you took the photo yourself, if you use an image on your web site that shows a company logo or trademark, this may imply a relationship between you and the company that does not exist. You may want to visit the getting started section for further discussion on trademark and other intellectual property rights issues.


Individuals have a right to control how their image, likeness, name, voice, or other identifying characteristics are used. If you wish to use photographs of people, you may need to obtain a release to use their image. Personality rights and Washington State Law governing personality rights are discussed in the Copyright Law section.