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martin 01-03-2016 07:11 PM

Take me home country roads
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Where do we stand on copyright on midi arrangements like this please.

Sherry C 01-04-2016 01:29 PM

Re: Take me home country roads
Hi Martin,

It depends on where you are as to the stringency of the copyright laws, and I honestly don't know the details of any of them, though they can be found online by searching.

If you sell arrangements like this, you have to pay royalities to the copyright holder. If you make your own arrangement for your own personal use, you don't have to do anything. My understanding of US copyright law from past research is that if you have done the arrangement from scratch (no cheating using a lead sheet or anything like that) and are not charging anything for it, you can share it for free. However, if you used a printed lead sheet from a copyright copy to add in any of the notes, you have to pay royalties. How's that for convoluted?

John Denver did know how to write some memorable tunes, didn't he? This was one of the first songs I learned to play on guitar :)


dj 01-05-2016 12:59 PM

Re: Take me home country roads
Hi, Sherry, Martin:

As it happens, I have spent a fair amount of time looking at copyright, both as an author and a producer.

In the U.S. and elsewhere, copyright is the exclusive right of the creator to copy (reproduce), license for copying, perform, license for performance, distribute or license for distribution any work created by them for a term limited by law.

In other words, whether it be reproduction as a performance at the Metropolitan Opera or by a Girl Scout troop, a midi file, a phonograph record, a CD, an Edison cylinder, sheet music in a book, petroglyphs on a cave wall or in any other form whatsoever, copyright exists in a work for the life of the author, plus the rest of the year in which the author dies plus, in the U.S. and some other countries, 70 years afterward. In Canada, it's 50 years. As someone who produces and adapts older works, I like being in Canada right now -- but that term length may change under the Trans Pacific trade deal, which is going to make two of my most recent adaptations illegal for about 17 years.

Contrary to popular myth, copyright applies whether the copying is done for profit or not. Each copy (performance) distributed reduces the remaining potential amount of money that the creator can make from it, therefore their work's potential value is being reduced whether someone makes money from the copying or not.

There are two loopholes to that, in the U.S.

One is a "parody" clause, which allows for the use of substantial portions of a work in a new work which is a "parody" of the original. That's how Weird Al Yankovic gets away with his parodies of current songs. The new work must, however, be demonstrably a distinctly different work from the original. To the best of my knowledge, the U.S. is the only country that has such a clause in their copyright law.

The second loophole started with the U.S. but is being adopted by other countries. "Fair use" is a clause which applies to material copied or performed (which is a kind of copying) for educational, informational or certain charitable purposes, but "fair use" is very restricted in application. As an example, a short quote from a book in a review is fair use, but I can't quote the entire book. Neither is there any "legal" minimum or maximum on the amount that may be used. Entire phrases have been used in some cases, yet people have been successfully sued for using a 1 wave-cycle sample from a recording without clearance. It all depends on the relative value of the material within the new work. Robin Thicke got into deep doo-doo for using a drum beat similar to another work recently -- a drum-beat!

So, Martin's creation of the Country Roads piece in his home can be considered to fall under "fair use", and he can play it privately, for himself, all he wants. But dissemination of that in any way is not "fair use". Neither is the piece a "parody". There is a parody piece to the same tune, called Take Me Home To Bayonne by satirist Mark Russell, which is very funny. The last line of the chorus is "Jersey City, by the turnpike, underneath Exit 14G." <=== See? That's "fair use."

So, long story short, unfortunately, posting the .not file here is definitely contrary to copyright law.

Are the copyright police going to kick down Martin's door in the middle of the night? Doubt it . . . but you never know. ;)


martin 01-05-2016 02:30 PM

Re: Take me home country roads
Thanks very much David. I am under the impression from your post that I am OK posting midi files of classical works such as Bach/Beethoven/Mozart and so on. Or should I only post music I have composed myself?

dj 01-05-2016 03:18 PM

Re: Take me home country roads
Hi, Martin:

Generally speaking, as long as the creator died more than 71 years ago (in the U.S; 51 in my country), then there is no copyright existing in the work.

So, if they died in 1945 or before, generally speaking, no problem.

=====> HOWEVER! <=====

Certain works that were created prior to changes in the copyright laws during the early 1970s (sorry, but I can't be more exact there. My memory fails me.) may already be in public domain even though the creator died after 1945. Prior to the 1970s, copyright existed for a fixed term -- 27 years and an optional renewal term of 28, if I recall. This means that, prior to the changes in the 1970s, many works fell into public domain during the lifetime of the creator. For example, the early works of ragtime great Eubie Blake, who started composing in the 1890s, are in public domain, even though Blake lived to be 96 and died in 1983. The copyright terms of his early works had expired and the works fallen into public domain while he still lived. Later works, possibly not.

Then, of course, there are posthumously published works. Mark Twain's new two-part autobiography, published in 2010 and 2011, is under copyright for another 45 years, even though he died in 1910. Works not published during the author's lifetime have 50 years of copyright protection from the date of publication (in Canada, not sure of the term length in the U.S., but probably 70 years). Works that are never published enjoy copyright protection until such time as they are published when the posthumous publication term begins.

Anonymous works have a copyright protection that is similar to posthumous publication.

Then, there are government-created works, which, in Canada at least, often have perpetual copyright. The governments of France and Australia claim perpetual copyright over The Marseillaise and Waltzing Matilda, respectively, even though the works were created hundreds of years ago. The Beatles got into trouble for using The Marseillaise to begin All You Need Is Love.

Then there's Columbia Records trying to enforce copyright on Happy Birthday, which is a lyric of five words to a tune that is at least 150 years old and which had been shown to have been published in the 1890s. Royalties on that were worth several million a year to them, so they fought it to the end. A recent court ruling may have put an end to that, though.

So, you can see, if you want to make money from the arts, become a copyright lawyer -- they're the only ones who do.


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