USA Cheer Music Guidelines and Due Diligence
**updated 2016-05-28 11:00 AM EST
May 17th 2016 – “USA Cheer introduces Music Copyrights Educational Initiative, which has been developed to educate and protect the athletes, coaches and event producers who participate in cheerleading and dance.”
Since the release of these guidelines many music providers have been making statements on the finer points of the US copyright law as it relates to the creation of cheer music.
This post is to share what I have learned in the process of doing my due diligence to fully understand how to proceed.
USA cheer implemented a preferred music provider list along with its guidelines.
Preferred Music Provider List – http://usacheer.net/presssafety/preferred-providers
In order to be on the list you must sign an agreement with USA cheer.
The nature of this agreement and its contents are protected within the agreement so we will not be discussing its details.
It seems that EPs (event producers) will require proof of proper licensing and will likely only accept mixes created or edited by a preferred music provider.
Exactly what EPs will require at the event is still unclear. What is known is that you will need to provide some sort of proof that your music is properly licensed.
First among the initial list of preferred providers is a company called unleashthebeats.com (UTB)
UTB provides licensed “cover” songs that are able to be used in cheer mixes.
Their terms and details are listed on the homepage of their website.
Additional terms and license details arrive with the delivery of the master recordings via email.
We immediately saw the benefit of using UTB to keep “music” in the mixes that we provide our clients.
On Friday May 20th, we purchased several cover songs to create a proof of concept using their licensed material.
We posted our mix and a firestorm of discussion arose amongst music providers.
Many providers came out with statements saying that covers are illegal and cannot be used.
This confused and perplexed me as it appeared that using the preferred provider UTB to access properly licensed cover songs would be 100% legit.
On Monday May 23rd, I began to have discussions with several entertainment lawyers including Varsity’s own counsel.
I am sharing what I have learned in the hopes that it clarifies some of the issues at hand.
This is in no way legal advice.
My first question for my lawyer was…
Can I use UTB to create mixes for my clients?
Upon a full review my lawyer assured me that our use of UTB was 100% legal and legit.
“UTB, in their company terms and conditions, states unequivocally that they fully warranty their ability to grant a master use license to a school and/or team.
UTB covers any possibility of a publisher’s lawsuit by stating:
“UTB warrants that we have the right to grant the license hereunder”. Consequently, the school or team is in the clear and not vulnerable in any way to a lawsuit from a record company or publisher. This has been handled by UTB and they in effect indemnify licensees against any potential claims.
Further, for clarity’s sake, UTB is currently working with experienced intellectual property attorneys in order to further update their “End Users License Agreement” (EULA). The updated version will add additional warranties and protections under a clear WARRANTIES section, that specifically states that no third party master recording copyrights were infringed upon.
We will continue to update everyone with specific developments but for now, rest assured you are covered.”
He also drafted a sub-licensing agreement to be provided for each client along with the proper licensing.
What Does Varsity have to say on this topic?
Recent communication from a Varsity Representative, “The most important step is for people to stop sourcing their songs from iTunes, etc., and either create original music or secure the rights to licensed covers.”
What about those saying covers are illegal, are they misinformed?
No. In almost every case you cannot use covers. It is my understanding you must have all the proper licensing regardless of what material you are using in your mix.
If you are a music producer and have found yourself in the precarious position of trying to find a way forward, I am happy to refer you to my lawyer who can make sure you are providing the proper licensing and documentation for your clients.
Other Points That May Help Clarify the Music Situation
This section of the post is opinion and food for thought…
1. Stop asking USA Cheer questions that they cannot answer.
USA Cheer/Varsity will not answer legal questions. It would be negligent for them to do so. They have carefully and responsibly set out the guidelines.
All of these initiatives are set in motion to comply with US copyright law and avoid getting sued by the music industry.
It is interesting to note that each entertainment lawyer I spoke with found it very hard to believe that the music industry would go after small cheer music producers.
They were shocked to hear about the two 2013 cases where music producers were sued. They found this highly unusual because the music industry typically goes after much higher value targets.
They explained that they have their hands full with much bigger fish to fry.
As far as the cheer industry goes they are much more likely to go after bigger players that actually have money. Even the most profitable cheer music producer does not have enough money to warrant a lawsuit.
The music industry learned this back in 2013.
It is much more likely that they are watching Varsity very closely.
The likelihood of legal action against anyone under the new guidelines is minimal as everyone involved is properly following US copyright law.
With the new guidelines, USA Cheer/Varsity (yes, I know they are technically separate) have greatly minimized and shifted their potential liability.
The initiative in place ensures that if something does go down, it is not Varsity or EPs that will be liable.
If music providers follow the guidelines they have nothing to worry about.
If gym owners and directors order music from the preferred provider list they have nothing to worry about.
If you order from a preferred music provider and they do not follow the proper guidelines, both parties may be liable. In reality the music provider is the one sticking their neck out on the line and I seriously doubt the consumer could be implicated.
Unfortunately much of the discussion on Facebook and social media has coaches and owners nervous or even scared to order music.
As a gym owner and coach myself, I don’t need yet another thing to stress me out.
In my opinion music will be fine.
It is still early and music providers are still trying to navigate these new guidelines and refine their offerings.
There will be many options including original, pre-made, and custom including properly licensed covers.