Mudcat Café message #589898 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #38580   Message #589898
Posted By: T in Oklahoma (Okiemockbird)
10-Nov-01 - 06:21 PM
Thread Name: Jean Ritchie Books & Recordings
Subject: RE: Jean Ritchie Books & Recordings
Jean, thanks for your insider's account of that period in the 50s and 60s when, as Oscar Brand put it, "If I were to sing 'The Battle Hymn of the Republic' on a program, the 'music clearance' department would insist on knowning the name of some book or publisher who would be willing to claim authorship. "

I think the record labels and others had been spooked by a case called George v.Victor Talking Machine Co., in which the plaintiff claimed to have been the true author of the words to "The Wreck of the Old '97", and that Victor's recordings of it were a violation of his common-law right of first publication. The district court believed him, the court of appeals didn't, but due to a technical error on the part of defendant's counsel the case dragged on until 1940. Victor had tried (and succeeded) in finding the author, and they still had to fight off this lawsuit from another claimant. My guess is that the "music clearance" people mentioned by Brand were trying to give themselves maximum protection against out-of-nowhere right-of-first-publication claims of this kind. Folk in the 1950s may still have remembered the "Home on the Range" case as well, in which it took months of investigation during 1934 to turn up evidence that the Arizona couple who claimed to have written "Home on the Range" were not the authors.

However, though the fear may have died down, I don't know that users of traditional material are any safer now from spurious claims of the kind that were made in the "Home on the Range" case. In fact the danger may be greater now, since the term of copyright is so much longer.

The melody of a song called "Fair Nottiman Town", collected in Knott County and published in Wyman and Brockway's Twenty Kentucky Mountain Songs (1920) somewhat resembles the melody that Cecil Sharp collected from your sisters. Have you encountered other variants of the same melody in your travels ?