Question - Use of Student Works Derived From Public Domain

A member of the music faculty gave her orchestra students the assignment of creating a derivative work or arrangement of a previously composed orchestral work now in the public domain. At the conclusion of the term, the faculty member advised the students that she would be using the best of the arrangements as examples for upcoming classes and would also make the arrangements available to middle school and high school music teachers for their use at school concerts. Some of the orchestra students protested, saying the faculty member did not have the right to freely use their works in that manner. The faculty member asserted that she could use their works in whatever manner she wanted because she created the assignment and their works were all based on music already in the public domain. Who is right?

The orchestra students. Although the orchestra students created their works in response to a class assignment and based their works on music already in the public domain, they own the copyrights to their derivative works. A composition may have numerous derivative works protected by copyright. If the work is in the public domain, anyone may make, publish and copyright a derivative work. The authors of these derivative works (in this case, the orchestra students) have the right to control the performance, recording and use of their works. The faculty member may not use the orchestra students' works without their permission.

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