Does Playing the National Anthem at an Event Require Permission?

Author: Convene Editors       

event permissions

The copyright to the national anthem of the United States is public domain, but there are other considerations when you want to use it at an event.

Convene frequently features some of the most popular topics being discussed on PCMA’s Catalyst forum, which offers members a platform to — as the website says — communicate and collaborate. Here’s a selection from a recent Catalyst discussion.

Star-Spangled Copyright

“If we play the national anthem at our meeting, do we need to obtain permissions?” Kathy Sinnen, manager, meetings and fellowships, the American Orthopaedic Association, asked the PCMA Catalyst Community.

The answer to that can be complicated. Since the song was declared the national anthem of the United States, the copyright became public domain to all U.S. citizens and enterprises. However, mechanical, publishing, and performance rights may still apply. Mechanical rights are the rights obtained from a creator or publisher to record and distribute their works or rights held by the person or persons whose performance was recorded (i.e. vocalist, instrumental, comedian, etc.). Once the song is published it can be recorded by anyone as long as a fee is paid and a mechanical license is obtained.

Publishing rights are intellectual property rights to the sound recording that can be bought or sold to parties that may or may not have any involvement with the recording. The owner of these rights has the control of where and how the recording is obtained or broadcast. These rights are not defined by a statute, rather it is a term recognized in the music industry. Performing rights are a copyright owner’s exclusive right to control the public presentation or a work, either live, through broadcast, or in moving image or sound recordings. This is part of copyright law and payment is required to the composer, lyricist, and publisher if one was used.

To put this all together, for example, when the national anthem is sung, broadcast, or recorded during a televised National Football League (NFL) game, the NFL owns the mechanical, performance, and publishing rights for that specific performance. The same rules apply to anthems sung by other organizations such as Major League Baseball, National Basketball Association, etc.

— Anthony Prusak, former Vice President of Business Development, ABTS Convention Services

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