This post is a brief update on Tresona Multimedia, LLC v. Burbank High School Vocal Music Association, a copyright infringement litigation suit. Chances are good if you are a show choir director you know about this one. If you write arrangements of music that is not in the public domain, you need to know about it.
Tresona is the world’s largest issuer of derivative works licensing on behalf of music publishers. I tried to find out how Tresona describes themselves, but right now as I am writing this notice, the About page on the Tresona website states only “To Contact Customer Service, (888) 587-3766
I am not an expert on this story! – just passing along something that I think is important, please forgive me if I get something incorrect (and let me know). I learned about Tresona and their litigations from my position as an orchestra administrator. A few years ago, Tresona went after orchestras who perform pop concerts of music like “The Music of…” concerts by Brent Havens: package concerts featuring a pop or rock band and orchestra dedicated to the œuvre of a single band or artist like “The Music of Prince” or “The Music of Led Zeppelin”. Tribute concerts. I worked for the Nashville Symphony during this time, who perform a lot of these kinds of shows, as one might expect for a Music City outfit. Our CEO Alan Valentine was chair of a national committee on behalf of the League of American Orchestras who negotiated a deal with Tresona in 2018.
But the Tresona story as I heard it originated in a case where Tresona sued Burbank High School’s show choir director, Brett Carroll, and the Burbank High School Vocal Music Assn. of copyright infringement in 2016. More about this story can be found here also. Tresona’s suit claimed that Brett Carroll and his choir and booster organization profited from arrangements of popular songs that were made without license.
Tresona lost this case, and appealed to higher courts. I am not sure how many courts this case has been through but learned today that on Tuesday, March 24, 2020, Tresona lost their appeal in this case in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal.
An accessible and summary explanation of the decision and what it means for you and me can be found here at The End of Tresona on the law blog of Stephen Riley, “California Licensed Attorney | Show Choir Arranger | Former Combo Drummer”.
As Steve Riley remarks at the top of his article, “It is a particularly relevant decision for school show choirs, but also may also be applied to a capella groups, drama programs, instrumental music programs, drum corps, marching bands, and just about anyone who has been threatened with a lawsuit by Tresona.”
©2020 Walter Bitner
Walter Bitner is a multi-instrumentalist, singer, conductor, and teacher, and serves as Director of Education & Community Engagement for the Richmond Symphony in Richmond, Virginia. His column Off The Podium is featured in Choral Director magazine, and he writes about music and education on his website Off The Podium at walterbitner.com.