Mudcat Café message #2206465 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #106522   Message #2206465
Posted By: Malcolm Douglas
01-Dec-07 - 05:23 PM
Thread Name: Topic Records Folk Songs Of Britain
Subject: RE: Topic Records Folk Songs Of Britain
EFDSS was never directly involved, except insofar as they agreed to Peter Kennedy (at that time their employee) taking a sabbatical to work for the BBC instead. The Society had, and has, no proprietory rights in the recordings and was not responsible for the later confusion (and disputes) regarding ownership of those recordings. Nor did EFDSS 'look the other way'; having no legal interest in the material, there was nothing much it could do, though it did, as it happens, do its best to provide information and clarification on an unofficial basis.

The issue of rights was one between the BBC, Kennedy, and the other collectors engaged on the project whose recordings Kennedy issued from time to time; in some cases with, in others without, their consent. It appears that Kennedy habitually got singers to sign releases of some kind, and that these usually included an assignment of copyright; though, as Roy Palmer points out in Folk Music Journal (9, 3, 2008, 487-8) these were of doubtful legality except insofar as they related to the physical recordings, there being, in law, no copyright in an oral performance or a transcription of such.

As you can see from Martin Graebe's press release, posted in thread The Peter Kennedy Collection, the current arrangement re ownership of the physical collection and publishing rights to it involves the British Library Sound Archive, which will hold and conserve the materials and Topic Records, which will (at their own expense; as a commercial organisation rather than a charity, they will naturally need to sell these for money in order to recoup costs) issue extensive selections from them.

Some matters are not touched upon: the position of the BBC is one. I suppose we can assume that they have agreed to this arrangement. Kennedy maintained that he had made separate recordings in his own behalf, and that it was these, not those made for the BBC, which he issued. In fact this seems rather unlikely, but only a detailed comparison of the recordings would reveal the truth; not, (though the contrary has been suggested) a simple thing to do. We also do not know at this stage whether the 'Kennedy Collection' as referred to includes the recordings made by, among others, Bob Copper and Seamus Ennis, copies of which were held, and issued at various times on cassette and CDR, by FolkTrax. Kennedy appears to have had an agreement with Copper re publication rights, but not, for example, with Ennis.

Finally, the collection consists of tape recordings and cine film, plus digital copies made from them (in some cases of poor quality, in some interfered with; at one point Kennedy developed the annoying habit of applying reverb to choruses and refrains, though not consistently) and hard copy notes and supporting materials. I imagine that new digital copies will need to be made from the tapes, which will be costly and time consuming. Topic's involvement represents quite a financial commitment (and risk) on their part, I suspect.

Of course the material (like so many other things) ought to be made freely available; but in practice somebody, somewhere, has to cover the costs involved. In the absence of government or charitable funding, the only practical answer seems to be a commercial one.