Coronavirus and Schools: Virtual Graduation Ceremonies
Nearly every school district is planning some type of virtual graduation ceremony – either through a live online ceremony or through a video with recorded messages. Moving such a ceremony online comes with two key legal considerations that are different from a live, in-person ceremony.
First – school districts must carefully consider the copyright implications of moving a ceremony online, as a broadcast is an entirely different medium from an in-person performance. While public domain works such as “Pomp and Circumstance” are certainly allowed – most contemporary musical works are protected by copyright and cannot be publicly broadcast without a broadcast license. Just because sheet music was purchased and could have been performed in a live ceremony does not mean that the same copyright rules apply to a public broadcast. Public broadcasts fall outside the normal copyright protections school districts enjoy for the performance of musical works. Therefore, if you want to include a musical performance, or even background music, in your graduation ceremony - you should consider purchasing a broadcast license for the musical work(s) in question.
Securing proper licensing for musical works is important not just to avoid potential copyright liability, but also because online streaming platforms such as YouTube or Facebook Live may shut down your livestream automatically if music is not properly licensed and pre-cleared for broadcast. The last thing we would want is for your graduation livestream to be shut down in the middle of the ceremony.
Music is not the only original work subject to copyright protection. If your graduation ceremony includes other copyrighted works (poems, short stories, books) – you should similarly license those works or avoid their use altogether.
Second – public broadcasts and publicly posted videos must be accessible to individuals with disabilities. As a reminder, the standard under the Americans With Disabilities Act is that communications must be as accessible for disabled individuals as those communications are for non-disabled individuals. School districts should ensure that pre-recorded videos are captioned prior to posting so that the videos are fully accessible to deaf individuals. Most online platforms provide captioning functions that either auto-caption the video, or that allow you to upload a script to caption the video. In both cases, we recommend that you review the captions prior to publicly posting the video to correct that accuracy (auto captioning is not 100% accurate).
For live-stream videos, automatic captioning is decidedly less reliable. But the technology does exist – and we suggest that when choosing a platform to livestream graduation, that you consider whether automatic captioning is available. For those school districts looking to ensure full accessibility, there are services available that will caption your livestream for you to ensure accessibility.
To ensure accessibility for blind individuals, we recommend that school districts also post either a transcript (or script) for the graduation ceremony (ensuring that the script is accessible to a screen reader); or that school districts consider posting an audio description of what can be seen in the graduation video. You can either create this yourself, or utilize a commercial service to create such an audio description for you.