Music Copyright Infringement and the Funeral Industry

August 25, 2009
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image Fifty years ago, the music used at a funeral home service and at memorial services was limited to the available talents of an organist or pianist or a vocalist. More elaborate funeral services might use larger musical groups such as string quartets or even small woodwind or brass ensembles. Rarely did funeral directors think about whether they were following the strict regulations of copyright infringement law, because typically the music was being played by actual human beings instead of on a recording. And more often than not, the funeral music selected was religious or spiritual in nature rather than secular.

The introduction of new technology and the boom of the recording industry has brought forth hundreds of thousands of pieces of recorded funeral music, both secular and spiritual. Modern funeral industry professionals at the request of families are often asked to choose more progressive and complex music that previously that fits the many different types available and fully captures the personality and life of the deceased. The music chosen for modern day celebrations of life express not only the decedent?s spiritual convictions, but often even more importantly the values of the life he/she lived. Funeral directors continue to individualize services and choose more secular music to truly reflect the uniqueness of the individual that has passed. While the availability of unlimited pieces of funeral music for the funeral industry has improved the quality and appropriateness of funeral services, it has made the process of selecting the perfect funeral music for unique memorial services and funerals much more time-consuming and expensive for loved ones and particularly funeral home directors that must pay exorbitant fees to avoid committing copyright infringement.

Developed in 1984, United States Copyright Law required funeral homes to be licensed in order to play music published by the large music providers such as ASCAP and BMI at all services. While this copyright infringement law made it initially difficult for many funeral homes, the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) made things easier by establishing a group licensing program for U.S. funeral homes and other establishments within the funeral industry that would cover royalties for all the major music providers.

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