Copyright again - but a somewhat tricky one?

Discussion in 'Music Business' started by paulears, May 2, 2019.

  1. paulears

    paulears Well-Known Member

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    Sorry to bring up copyright again, I know we get pretty fed up with it, but I really would appreciate opinions on this one.

    Our busiest area of work is music for dance - specifically Ballet. So it's music on official lists, music for exams, music for different styles, even music for the exam parts where they must identify the difference between a tango and a tarantella. We've been approached to produce some different types of music, and specifically Gershwin. There's a huge catalogue, but not all will work because of the rules on lengths and content- but lots will. My view on the rights are that George Gershwin, who wrote the music, died before WW2, so the 70 years after death rule which we have here in the UK makes the songs public domain. However, I see the same songs described in two ways. Music, George Gershwin, Lyrics, Ira Gershwin - who is NOT gone long enough to be public domain. My stand at the moment is that as our music contains only music and not lyrics, we're fine. However, many of the credits for these songs say Words and Music by George and Ira Gershwin. This is not quite the same. The Gershwin family protect their products strongly in some territories. I've been unable to get a categoric copyright opinion so far.

    We're going to do it - but I'd appreciate any opinions on the status of this music. Maybe anecdotal stories you may have heard or any absolutes you have knowledge of. It won't be a major money spinner, but just another income stream.
     
  2. cyrano

    cyrano Active Member

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    Brussels
    Isn't there an exception for educational use in the UK?
     
  3. paulears

    paulears Well-Known Member

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    No - not that these are educational in the allowable system, but Schools and Colleges have just the same issues with copyright. Some assume they can do what they like, but they can't. Up to 2004 I ran a music and performing arts programme in a college and when we did one jukebox musical, I got the job of doing the releases and it was a nightmare.
     
  4. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

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    it's possible in the USA that the family could have renewed copyright.
     
  5. dvdhawk

    dvdhawk Well-Known Member

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    Location:
    Western Pennsylvania, USA
    Are you a member of any performance rights organization ASCAP, BMI, or the UK equivalent (PRS)? They may be able to point you in the right direction.

    Here one option is a fairly universal agency for mechanical licenses etc. (The Harry Fox Agency). A quick "Public Search" of their Songfile database indicates that if I wanted to record "Summertime" I would have to pay 4 Publishers to do so. Not only are George and Ira Gershwin listed as "Writers", but also Dubose and Dorothy Heyward - each with their own publisher. And there's no indication at this stage of whether they each are entitled to 25%, or some other arbitrary percentages they agreed to when filing for copyright - based on contribution.

    "Rhapsody in Blue", on the other hand, only lists George as the "Writer" and only his publishing company and "Publisher".

    HFA can only supply my with the standard, statutory licenses. Anything reduced-rate or specialty license would have to be negotiated directly with the publishers. So while not ideal, at least it provides a list of the publishers who have interests in each piece of music.

    How they'd deal with parsing out lyrics and license instrumental versions is anybody's guess. And of course once you cross a border I'm sure it only gets more complicated.

    I wish you the best of luck, Paul, it sounds like a headache.
     
    Kurt Foster likes this.
  6. paulears

    paulears Well-Known Member

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    I'm a member of both PRS and PPL here so it should be clear cut - but this "written by" rather than "music" or "lyrics" is very confusing as there seems no obvious way to determine for certain. Some songs were published for piano first, with the lyrics appearing in later versions, and these ones seem safe - my slant on it being that we're using the first published product.

    It gets even worse when you have access to the publishing database - which is a members only, not public database. In the case of a song called The Man I Love, the confusion gets a tiny bit clearer. Screenshot 2019-05-03 at 07.43.53.png
    George Gershwin listed as the composer and author, but then the arranger pops up! He's a prolific arranger of people's works - so anything he touched is covered for the usual period. Then I found a version that had just George Gershwin listed - and this one is different, the status is resolved and public domain status confirmed. So I am sure I can use this one, and taking this a bit further, the version we use will be shorter and edited to fit the time requirements, so like Alec Gould, we'd then become a rights holder, 50/50 with the Gershwin estate (I think). Take a public domain work, rework it and then this version then starts the right process again? My reading is that if this database listed Ira in the composer box, then we could NOT use it without permission and payment to the estate.

    No wonder copyright lawyers make lots of money.
     
    audiokid likes this.
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