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Etiquette/law on using arrangements


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As a complete beginner I also find it hard to get information on how to flesh out the melody with chords and other arrangements (see 

I am increasingly drawn to the ‘tuneful’ style of playing as exemplified by Jody Kruskal and others which relies on ornamentation to flesh out the melody.

When I find a YouTube clip I like I have been trying to copy the arrangement so that I can play it myself. 
 

Can anybody enlighten me on the accepted etiquette re ‘borrowing’ other people’s arrangements. I understand that the melody may be copyrighted but is the arrangement copyrighted also?

 

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Hiya,

Unless you are reproducing sheet music, selling tunes/arrangements, or making a commercial recording, I wouldn't worry about it. [Edit] However, it is always good etiquette to acknowledge your sources.

Jimmy

Edited by JimmyG
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Even simple one-line melodies and traditional folk tunes may be copyright.  The copyright is often in the name of the first person or organisation to set them down on paper.  In some cases, this was so long ago that the copyright has expired.

 

Even if a melody is in the public domain, a specific arrangement of it may still be copyright.  However, the person claiming copyright would need to establish that they had done something original.

 

An actual document or recording is definitely copyright.  You can run into trouble if you start photocopying sheet music and selling it, or converting vinyl records to MP3 and selling the recordings.

 

However, you will never have to worry about copyright unless you either try to sell a written or recorded version, or, less likely, you try to pass either a tune or an arrangement off as your own.

 

In reality, most musicians and composers in the folk/jazz/country worlds love their music and are flattered if someone else chooses to play it.  If it is not for commercial gain, the most they will expect is attribution: "This is a tune composed by so and so and it's called..." or "I've copied this arrangement from the such and such album by so and so..."

 

For comparison, the first written 12 bar blues was published and recorded by WC Handy around 1914.  If he and his estate had enforced copyright on the 12 bar blues, by now, his descendants would have enough dosh to buy Microsoft, Google, and McDonalds and still have enough change to buy NASA.

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A recent thread here points to a Rob Harbron video on making your own arrangements:

It  is billed as for the EC, but the EC-specific content is quite small.  I guess that at least 75% is applicable to all systems.  However, if you do play EC then this is a must have video.  I started out on EC but was frustrated about how to play anything beyond a melody line on it.  If this video had been around then I suspect that I would never have left the EC world.

 

He says that you need to develop a 'toolbox' of harmonic additions/tricks and learn how to add them dynamically to a tune that you can already play on 'autopilot'.  He demonstrates a number of such tools that he uses on the EC.  On an Anglo or a Duet some of his tools mught be a bit tricky to use, but then we have other tools that in turn would be tricky or impossible to use on an EC.

 

He talks about shaping an arrangement into a 'story' or a 'journey' so that you can play 4-5 iterations of the same tune without repeating yourself or boring the audience.

 

He has no written arrangements and says that every time he plays a tune it results in a slightly different arrangement, but with the same 'storyline'.

 

Rob is a brilliant teacher and packs a huge amount of easy to absorb advice into this 115 minute video, learning to fully use the advice might take a little longer ...

 

 

Edited by Don Taylor
typos
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As I think all the other replies suggest - don't worry about it. If you're learning a tune from a book of arrangements then it's obviously fine to copy it exactly. That's what the book was written for. Otherwise you'd have to be a very competent musician to manage an exact copy of what someone else is playing; but then, if you're that good you'll probably be able to construct your own arrangements anyway.

 

In addition, as Don points out above, unless you're playing the same instrument as the one you're listening to it will come out differently anyway. As he says, the "tricks" available are different.

 

So think of it differently. When you hear a tune and you like the way it's played, copy the feel of the arrangement but use the "tricks" available to you. And listen to other versions to pick up on particular chords or phrases that you like. In the end what comes out will be your arrangement.

 

I unashamedly "copy" tunes from the greats such as John Kirkpatrick (Anglo or Shand chromatic accordion) or Phil Cunningham (piano accordion and just about any other instrument). I would always acknowledge the source of the tune, but by the time it's been translated onto my Crane duet, and given my musical limitations in comparison to them, it becomes my arrangement.

 

LJ

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Thank you all for that. When I first started it was a lockdown project for a complete musical tyro. I expected to be playing in the Irish style. A couple of months have passed and my aspirations have changed after hearing some notable role models play and thinking ‘I wish I could play like that’ And, Kathryn, you are one of them... keep posting your work - it keeps us mere mortals going!

 

john

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You are such a fantastic and knowledgeable bunch. A collection of extremely helpful and brilliant replies for John (excluding my own, which I admit doesn't offer much). I especially enjoyed the pointers in regards to playing around with and forming a style.

 

I think you'll be hard pressed to find many musos who disagree that variation is key; more fun to play, more fun to listen to. I don't think anything should be off the table. Through listening, imitation and experimentation, we learn. I am speaking in general capacity as a musician, not an expert in concertina technique.

 

I still maintain, unless your activity at some point becomes commercial, don't stress about it.

 

Outside of commercial activity, reproducing (for example photocopying) sheet music can be illegal, and distributing it is just plain wrong. I've never heard of anyone get into trouble for it, however. It doesn't make it any less an awful thing to do, nor less illegal. 

 

As others have mentioned, it'll be tough for any good player to match something so exactly (why would we want to?) as to demonstrably breach someone's copyright. So, it comes down to a matter of general respect and decency, and the intent behind it. 

 

It is always good practice to give a nod to any sources of material or inspiration.  Especially if you pop a video or recording in the public domain, on YouTube or similar. 

 

8 hours ago, Mikefule said:

An actual document or recording is definitely copyright.

What do you mean by this, Mike? If I record myself whistling the tune to a Stevie Wonder song, will I have to worry about that file if I share it with someone? I think we both know the answer is no. Then again, I wouldn't try to sell it. Who would buy that?

 

Does anyone have any experience/stories of this being an issue outside something 'monetised'? Otherwise countless amateur musicians would've run into hot water now, performing covers, and sometimes straight up commercially available transcriptions.

Jimmy

Edited by JimmyG
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Thanks Jonny, that’s great to hear!  I’ve been thinking that it might be a good idea to do something on how to flesh out a melody to provide variety and interest.  And how to adapt a melody so it feels good to play on a 20b Anglo.  If my own learning process can help anyone else that’s a great thing. I am not quite sure yet what format that might take - possibly video discussion and demonstration.  In the meantime I’m putting down any stuff I do as sheet music and video and happy to chat.  If anyone wants to play anything I come up with (especially if they want to video it/play it for gigs but also generally cos it’s lovely to know) drop me a line 

Edited by Kathryn Wheeler
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Copyright can exist in both the piece itself and separately in an arrangement.  Simply fitting chords to a melody usually isn't sufficient to be an "arrangement", it has to be more complex than that.  

 

If you're just playing for your own pleasure then copyright is absolutely nothing to worry about.  Even if you were to perform in public copyright is then handled by the venue, which has to pay a licence fee to a music rights organisation (in the UK this is the Performing Rights Society).  The performer might be asked to provide details of the pieces played, but you don't need to askthe composer's permission or pay a fee yourself.

 

If you are going to make a commercial recording then you will have to pay to use copyright material, but again this is usually handled by the music rights organisations and you pay them a fee at the time the recording is published. However if a recording is just for your own private purposes then again you don't need to worry.

 

This is a considerable simplification of what is a complicated area, and also the law may differ in different legal jurisdictions.  At this stage of your musical career you don't need to worry about it.

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Just to add my tuppence worth to Howard’s sage advice and overview. We came against the sharp end of this when recording our Dapper’s Delight CDs, the second of which has an arrangement of an Ian Dury song. 

 
We got in contact with the Dutch performing rights equivalent (BUMA) who were very helpful and contacted Dury’s estate on our behalf. After a couple of months, permission was given and the fee we paid up front was (I think) only about 80 euro. (It’s a fixed amount dependent on the quantities of physical media and the length of the piece.) Strangely enough we also had to pay a similar amount for a Victorian Music Hall song that I’d assumed was long out of copyright. The reason was that a piano arrangement of the piece had been published in the 1940’s which had effectively extended the original copyright on the original song!
 
As I understand it, you need to ask permission to record your own arrangements of copyrighted music, whereas if you do a cover version, you don’t need permission, you just have to pay for recording it, or as Howard said, the venue is liable if you are performing it. Of course what exactly constitutes a cover (I’m thinking about all those tribute-bands out there) or a new arrangement is an open question and probably something to make media lawyers’ mouths water 🙂
 
When we got to our third CD, we wanted to record an arrangement of a Peter Gabriel song that I’d neatly spliced into a 16th century ballad. We asked again via the helpful people at BUMA and were asked to submit a demo recording. Whether this ever got as far as Mr. Gabriel, or what the objection was, we’ll never know, but we were denied permission and were told this refusal would henceforth also apply to any performance of the arrangement. My own feeling is that there is probably a blanket ban on “messing around” with Gabriel's music and that had permission been granted, we could possibly even have claimed copyright on our arrangement in a similar way the Music hall song was? 
 
Finally, we did record a pretty obscure pop song from the 1970’s which although the piece was still in copyright, the original copyright holders were long since defunct and had no representative in The Netherlands. So we were told we could go ahead without permission or fee! As Howard said, it depends very much on which jurisdiction you fall under, and ultimately I suspect, how much dosh you can be expected to create with your efforts.   
 
Adrian 
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Under US copyright law a new arrangement or recording would be a "derivative work", the new parts of which you would own the copyright for, but the owner of the copyright for the original work would retain all their rights. As a result, you would still need permission to distribute your complete derivative work, and anyone else that wanted to use it would need permission from both copyright holders. A derivative work (such as the piano arrangement Adrian mentioned) does not extend or otherwise affect the copyright of the original work in any way, but unfortunately if somebody wants to take you to court over a copyright claim and you don't have the spare cash for a lawyer it doesn't really matter whether the claim is legitimate or not.

 

I had thought that most of Europe had similar rules, but it's possible I'm mistaken.

 

Copyright law is kind of a mess, and there are many common practices which are technically violations of copyright but which society generally accepts (which doesn't mean you can't still get hit with a lawsuit). Nobody is going to care what music you play in private. Once you're doing things in public (especially commercial recordings) you need to pay attention to the rules and conventions, but don't stress too much about getting it wrong - do your best, and if someone has a problem, just be polite and cooperative. You'll typically be able to sort things out.

Edited by schult
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I learned several tunes that I play for dances over 50 years ago from a few very old (even then) tune books.  I've noticed as I research them a bit that they are now claimed under copyright by contemporary musicians.  If I can demonstrate my sources am I still bound to acknowledge these claims?

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1 hour ago, wunks said:

I learned several tunes that I play for dances over 50 years ago from a few very old (even then) tune books.  I've noticed as I research them a bit that they are now claimed under copyright by contemporary musicians.  If I can demonstrate my sources am I still bound to acknowledge these claims?

 

If the tunes were still under copyright, it's possible that the original composer transferred the copyright to a new owner (such as their children or some kind of trust). I think it's more likely that the contemporary musicians are only claiming copyright for their specific performances/recordings, and you're in the clear.

Edited by schult
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On 4/13/2021 at 4:02 PM, adrian brown said:

Strangely enough we also had to pay a similar amount for a Victorian Music Hall song that I’d assumed was long out of copyright. The reason was that a piano arrangement of the piece had been published in the 1940’s which had effectively extended the original copyright on the original song!

 

It's not unreasonable that a Victorian Music Hall song might be still in copyright - In Europe (as in many other jurisdictions), copyright now lasts for 70 years after the death of the last author/composer. Victoria died in 1901, so someone who was 25 then, and lived to say 80 years old might have died in 1956. So with the 70 years after death rule, it would be in copyright until 2026. If they lived to age 99 then it expires in 2045!

 

I'm not convinced that the publishing of an arrangement in 1940 has any relevance to the copyright of the original tune.  The arranger would then have a copyright on his/her arrangement until 70 years after his/her death, but that only affects the arrangement, not the original tune.

 

Caveat: I'm not a lawyer, and there are exceptions - see Non-Crown copyright flowchart 2015 (nationalarchives.gov.uk) for a good summary of the UK decision tree. In the USA the law regarding older works is much more complex - see circ15a.pdf (copyright.gov).

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In the US, anything before 1924 is considered "public domain" and copyright-free. It's gets a little tricky after that, with the law changing about every 20 years or so. It's all about the money - performing (handled by various rights organizations) and the printing (often controlled by big music publishing houses). If they think you're making any money off it they want a piece of the action.

 

Oftentimes those big publishing houses want waaaay too much upfront, that's why there are no Cyril Tawney songs in any of the Rollston Press shanty and sea song books. Pity, that.

 

I had to pay $$$ to include "Over the Rainbow" in Anglo Concertina in the Harmonic Style, and they told me that also meant they owned my concertina arrangement of the tune since it was a "derivative work". I doubt they'll make many millions off it, but it's all about controlling what is done to the original work. Even if the original composer is long gone - that's what really sucks about "the business".

 

To bring it back to the OP, I contacted John Connoly directly to get permission to include "Fiddlers' Green" in The Pocket Shantyman and Sailor Songs for Concertina and he was most gracious. Same for many other folkies who have written great tunes. It's all about the permission, which can sometimes be freely granted. I have no love whatsoever for the big music publishers but I'm more than happy to support individual artists!

 

As to learning/copying other people's arrangements for your own enjoyment, there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. It's a great way to learn and some might even consider it an honor. Always give credit where credit is due, but also try to eventually make your arrangement your own. Who knows, you might even come up with something new that's absolutely brilliant!

 

Gary

 

 

Edited by gcoover
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54 minutes ago, Kelteglow said:

Thanks for all that .One other question . If I write a tune with words say, how do you get copyright

 

In the US and UK, you automatically have copyright on anything you produce. No special action on your part is required. Rules may be different elsewhere.

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