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Today I was listening to a recorded lecture about the history of opera, which includes excerpts from performances. The professor mentioned after playing one excerpt that he regretted he couldn't tell us who the singer was, because the record labels who provide the excerpts won't allow the course publisher to identify the performers. (He does identify the composer and the work for each excerpt, in order to integrate them into his lecture.)

The same professor has mentioned this practice online here and here, but not given a reason for it.

Of course the labels are free to ask for any provisions they want, and there's no strong reason for the course publisher to reject a deal with this condition, but why would the labels ask for this in the first place?

  • Amusingly, today I heard the professor say, "This recording is a product of the 1950s bel-canto revival, which was basically the responsibility of four sopranos: [A], although this is not [A]; [B], although this is not [B]; [C], although this is not [C]; and [D]. Let's listen." – Lee C. Jan 2 '16 at 22:08
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I can't say I know for certain, but I can make an educated guess as to why.

The record company that recorded the material has contracts with the performers which will stipulate what each party can and can't do with their recordings and the artist's name or likeness.

Generally the company owns the rights to the recording of the music, but not to the music itself or the artist's name. The record company may have licensed to the course publisher use of the recording, since they own it, but that's all they can license. Since you are speaking of educational material, the course publisher may also be using excerpts of music under the "fair use" doctrine (which is also what allows users on this site to include copyrighted material).

Fair use is not a free license to do whatever you want with material, though. It is to be applied as narrowly as possible, only using what is pertinent to the learning material. Since what is being studied is the opera, not the performer, free use would not extend to the use of the performer's identity.

If, on the other hand, you were studying The Rolling Stones then the band itself would be pertinent to the learning material so free use would cover using their name.

So, the company is not hiding anything, they just don't have the right to give permission to use the performer's name. And if the course publisher happens to know who it is, unless the material is about the performer, free use doesn't allow them to use it either.

  • That makes sense most of the time, but the first link in my question seems to indicate a time when the performer was germane to the lecture but still couldn't be disclosed. – Lee C. Jan 2 '16 at 22:06
  • That sounds like it confirms what I'm saying. The course instructor, at least in the answer he gave there, has no problem saying who it is. Since he is comparing live performances of separate conductors he's protected by fair use. But when the record companies licence the music to him they specify no names because they don't have that contractual right. It may even be in the artist's contract that way, that the company can provide recordings to educational sources at discounted rates without performer's names. Otherwise the record company would have to pay royalties to the performer. – SpinDownUGo Jan 2 '16 at 22:46

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