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Changing words to a copyrighted song??

Barry Finn 17 May 08 - 02:46 AM
Monique 17 May 08 - 03:18 AM
Richard Bridge 17 May 08 - 03:19 AM
stallion 17 May 08 - 03:45 AM
Slag 17 May 08 - 04:41 AM
The Sandman 17 May 08 - 05:59 AM
Anne Lister 17 May 08 - 06:17 AM
George Papavgeris 17 May 08 - 06:30 AM
Big Al Whittle 17 May 08 - 07:01 AM
strad 17 May 08 - 07:03 AM
Big Al Whittle 17 May 08 - 09:25 AM
Richard Bridge 17 May 08 - 10:20 AM
Anne Lister 17 May 08 - 10:22 AM
Sandra in Sydney 17 May 08 - 10:30 AM
trevek 17 May 08 - 02:39 PM
Fidjit 17 May 08 - 02:42 PM
Charley Noble 17 May 08 - 11:30 PM
Sandy Mc Lean 18 May 08 - 12:12 AM
Nick E 18 May 08 - 12:45 AM
Slag 18 May 08 - 01:05 AM
Barry Finn 18 May 08 - 10:16 AM
GUEST,Chief Chaos 18 May 08 - 05:10 PM
George Papavgeris 18 May 08 - 05:21 PM
Tootler 18 May 08 - 06:30 PM
GUEST,Dave MacKenzie 18 May 08 - 06:52 PM
GUEST 18 May 08 - 07:29 PM
Doug Chadwick 18 May 08 - 07:31 PM
McGrath of Harlow 18 May 08 - 07:59 PM
GUEST,synbyn 19 May 08 - 05:08 AM
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Subject: Changing words to a copyrighted song??
From: Barry Finn
Date: 17 May 08 - 02:46 AM

Let's not haggle of the use of the word "copyrighted" here, ok.

I just read in a post where a song that got recorded by someone other that the author chastised the singer for a one word mistake. The one word does make a slight difference to that verse's intent but not to the songs as a whole. (see Morning Shanty ) in this thread.

In my opinion, even though no one asked for it, & if we're talking about folk songs that are meant to be sung by others (hopefully), does anyone one (author included) have the right or control of how it's to be done once it "flies the coop"? If a singer/musician down the road puts a twist to the melody or changes a word that, say helps it scan better or just seems to enhance the song, should they be bound to the author's original & exact tune or words?
I guess it's a harder thing to answer if one is recording the song rather than if one is just singing it because they have taken a liking to it & no more. But still either way, if it's good enough for traditional songs & that's how most of the traditional repertoire was pruned, peared down, reshaped, refined & kept alive shouldn't it be the same for the written song too?
In my opinion, yes, as far as the singing of it goes, the writting down of it presents another can of worms, doesn't it.
Take Martin Grabe's "Jack In The Green", thought by many to be traditional. It's sung (as far as I know) by many differently from how Martin wrote it but both ways are lovely(actually great) none the less. (It'd be great if Martin see's this post & put's in his thoughts here but maybe he'd not see it that way, No pressure Martin)
Another example would be that a freind at the Gloucester (USA) shanty session that I attend wrote a song recently. I took it up & he was quite delighted that his song is growing legs cause of the interest of others taking it up to. Such that when he's at a session & starts it he wants the others who've taken it up to sing it with all the changes that they've made to it, & loves it when he's found that someone has put a slight change to either a word, phrase or in the tune. He calls them all his little babies & says that he loves watching them grow. Another example would be in Charlie Ipcar's reworking of Hamish's "Yangtse River Shanty". Who Hamish forbid Charlie's changes to make the song more singable. Charlie certinally is delighted in how the song he "midwifed" has taken up to finding more new lives than a cat could ever hope for. With my version, Allison Freedam's version, John Robert's & now Danny Spooner version.
So all that being said is it justifiable to change the tune somewhat or slightly or the words or a phrase (I'm not taliking about the songs intent or direction here, that I wouldn't agree with at all) even if the orginal author is against the changes. After all this is
all relative & subjective but it's also the method that has shaped traditional songs that have come before, for the better & this method has kept the traditional song's appeal alive. So because it's contemporary & there's an author does that make it a horse of a whole different color, or are there justifications where these changes can be applied?

I would include example's of my own songs that have under gone changes but so far none has seen fit to sing them never mind changing them so I can not only not give any examples, I can't even really speak to this with any 1st hand experience. So here's why I ask the rest of you. Do "we" (the folk "we") need permission or authorization to sing a song even slightly differently from the orginal author's written copyrighted way if we are to sing it differently in any way shape or form? I know I have sung songs that are different, I'm guilty but in some cases the author is now dead & in most (I said "most") cases they haven't heard me, so I haven't recieved much in the way of feed back from them.

I'm not asking about the courteousness of asking the author first here either. Cause what if you asked & the author says "no". That's a different dilemma I don't want to cover here. If you want to cover that can of worms here then by all means open up the can.

Thanks to all

Barry


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Subject: RE: Changing words to a copyrighted song??
From: Monique
Date: 17 May 08 - 03:18 AM

Some stuff here


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Subject: RE: Changing words to a copyrighted song??
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 17 May 08 - 03:19 AM

Technically the blanket licences here in the UK from PRS (performance) or MCPS (recording) do not include the right to make an adaptation or alteration of the work.

Consequently if the change is enough to amount to an arrangement or adaptation then, technically, the permission of the copyright holder or relevant representative is necessary.

I learned the above in the 80s when a client of mine recorded a video version of Britten's "Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra" after getting a standard MCPS permission - but changed the order of the movements to make it easier for the narrator to walk from section to section of the orchestra. I was instructed after the dirty deed was done and made public. A screaming hissyfit from a certain person at the Britten estate followed with many insults about the lack of artistic taste of my clients! Expensive for client: no way out.

The same would technically apply to changes in words melody and harmony (or counterpoint or countermelody).

It has been accepted by the courts that a rhythm can amount to enough of a musical work to make the originator of the rhythm a co-owner or part owner of copyright. What has not yet been tested is whether this is true of mere changes of tempo and if so at what point.

In the real world I suspect most people forget it.


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Subject: RE: Changing words to a copyrighted song??
From: stallion
Date: 17 May 08 - 03:45 AM

I have been given a verbal slapped arse for changing words but that was because they were heard incorrectly, the song was a homage to individuals mentioned and, it was pointed out, with some feeling, that the names were more important than the song. I saw the point but not the need to be so verbally aggressive. I am too busy listening to your cd Barry, anyway you have nailed them all, it's a hard act to follow! We shall be having a go at some before our next trip over!


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Subject: RE: Changing words to a copyrighted song??
From: Slag
Date: 17 May 08 - 04:41 AM

Just call it a parody and nothing can be said about it!


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Subject: RE: Changing words to a copyrighted song??
From: The Sandman
Date: 17 May 08 - 05:59 AM

Bill Prince changed a word in my song the Battle of Bosworth Field,It was an improvement.
but if the author doesnt want a wordor the music changed, because it affects a meaning ,or mood that is valid.
Charley Noble changed the words of Sailortown,well that is not my problem, because I only wrote the tune,I do think the original words are better,but others may disagree,if someone asked me if they could alter the tune,well that would depend, I think it is a good tune,that fits the words well,but until one has heard the new music it is impossible to make a judgement.Dick Miles


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Subject: RE: Changing words to a copyrighted song??
From: Anne Lister
Date: 17 May 08 - 06:17 AM

There are conscious changes and then there are the unconscious ones. I've had experience with my songs of both. Nic Jones changed the words of "Icarus" to make some of the words more the way he spoke and thought. I don't think he ever asked my permission to do so, but on the other hand he was reaching bigger audiences than I would have done and on balance I felt it was better to have that change than have my song stay sacrosanct but little known. People who learnt the song from Nic's version took those changes on, without necessarily knowing they weren't singing the song the way it was written. When I met Martin Simpson (who had already learnt the song from Nic via Maggie Holland) he asked me to sing him the song so that he could hear how it "should" be, but then he subtly altered the rhythms and chording, and I can generally spot who has learnt the song from Martin as a result. Neither of these sets of changes is sufficient to count as a separate arrangement, however, or to become copyright in their own right.

And then there are the people who have learnt a song and not fully remembered it, so there are some interesting variations around on my song "Moth" which have destroyed some of the internal rhymes and the imagery. I'd love to be able to stand on a soapbox and denounce this kind of thing, but the reality is it would be impossible to track down each and every example of it happening and ultimately as long as they credit me for the song I suppose I should just be pleased that they wanted to sing it in the first place. I'd just prefer people to hear the crafted version of the song rather than a garbled version, in case anyone thinks I wrote the garbled one!

I did have a good conversation once with Roy Bailey about my song "Red Riding Hood", because he felt I was letting men off the hook too easily with the way I'd phrased it initially. I didn't adopt his suggested changes but I did alter the way I sang it from then on to take account of what he'd said - I don't often take too much notice of people's suggested changes to my songs, mind you, but Roy does know about songs and singing and messages embedded in the texts.

Often when people come and suggest different words I'm afraid I tend to take the view that if they wanted the song to say that instead of what I'd written, then they should just go away and write their own song, because I've generally taken a lot of time and trouble to write the song the way I want it to be.

Anne Lister


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Subject: RE: Changing words to a copyrighted song??
From: George Papavgeris
Date: 17 May 08 - 06:30 AM

Richard, I understand that if I take out a PRS or MCPS license to perform or record a song, I must be faithful to the original.

But what if I want to make an adaptation, and become potentially co-owner of the copyright? Do I need permission to effect the changes I want? What if I take out an MCPS license, record my own arrangement and register it with MCPS, and simply state on the sleeve "XXXXXX/Arr myself"?


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Subject: RE: Changing words to a copyrighted song??
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 17 May 08 - 07:01 AM

If youre uneasy you can ask the author, or his estate if he's dead. John Masefield's estate were quite nice to me about my adaption of his Long John Silver Song.

Courtesy costs nothing. If the author cuts up nasty - you can chance your arm anyway. What's he going to do, shoot you...?


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Subject: RE: Changing words to a copyrighted song??
From: strad
Date: 17 May 08 - 07:03 AM

George - if you lend someone a book, and they write their name inside it, does it cease to be your book? I think not.


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Subject: RE: Changing words to a copyrighted song??
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 17 May 08 - 09:25 AM

lets face it, most of the people who play in folk clubs couldn't actually play or sing the same piece twice exactly the same, if their lives depended on it - myself included.

so there are going to be SOME changes - involuntary and otherwise.


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Subject: RE: Changing words to a copyrighted song??
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 17 May 08 - 10:20 AM

Slag, the defence the US calls the "defence of parody" is unknown in the UK. We simply judge whether there has been a substantial reproduction of the original.

George, you don't become co-owner.

FIrst in order to reproduce (or do any acts restricted by copyright) in relation to a protected work, you need permission. If you can't get it via the PRS/MCPS then you have to get it from the copyright owner or appropriate representative.

With that permission, you then produce a work that both substantially reproduces the original and also differs from it. You derive (if there is work of sufficient substance) copyright in your work. When the combination of the two is performed or reproduced, it results in the doing of the same restricted acts to two sets of works - the original(s) and yours.   

When you get the permission to make your adaptation, the rightsowner of the original will usually make it a condition of the necessary permission that you pay him a proportion of what you charge for the use of the resulting adapted work, or what you receive from it (not necessarily the same thing).


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Subject: RE: Changing words to a copyrighted song??
From: Anne Lister
Date: 17 May 08 - 10:22 AM

George, as far as I know you'd need the copyright holder's permission to make any adaptations and thereby become a co-owner of the copyright, so that's a bit of a circular argument. A few minor changes (Nic Jones and my words, Martin Simpson and my chords and timing) don't count as adaptations. To get your hands on a piece of the copyright you have to make substantial alterations (with permission), otherwise it's plagiarism, as far as I understand it.

Anne


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Subject: RE: Changing words to a copyrighted song??
From: Sandra in Sydney
Date: 17 May 08 - 10:30 AM

there are always the inadvertant changes - read the words on the insert & see "the" - listen to the track & hear "a" but there are also deliberate changes that are a different matter.

Some years back a group decided that the song would be better with 2 verses reversed. The writer objected as it changed the sense of the story, but they carried on doing their version. They added insult to injury when one of the group booked the songwriter at their local club, & introduced the guest, asking him if he would be doing this song. No, he said, oh good, they said we can do it! (The final straw was near the end of the gig when they asked the guest how many songs he had left, 3 - just do 2 cos we want to hear one of the floorspots again!)

sandra

oops, I almost forgot the most common source of change - mondegreens!


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Subject: RE: Changing words to a copyrighted song??
From: trevek
Date: 17 May 08 - 02:39 PM

Of course, you could just do what the Furey's did with Eric Bogle's "No Man's Land" ("Green Fields of France"). Cite it as "Learned from the singing of..." and give some other poor sod the blame for murdering the lyrics.


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Subject: RE: Changing words to a copyrighted song??
From: Fidjit
Date: 17 May 08 - 02:42 PM

It's the asking for permission that's the difficult part. Trying to find out, not only who they are, but where they are and how to get hold of them.

Chas


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Subject: RE: Changing words to a copyrighted song??
From: Charley Noble
Date: 17 May 08 - 11:30 PM

This is never a topic we'll ever get closure on!

Some composers are only satisfied if their songs are sung exactly as they were written. And if one wants to record their song, one has an ethical and legal obligation to either do just that or not record it.

Other composers are more tolerant of changes, and will even acknowledge that some of the changes are an improvement, or will disagree whether it is an improvement but will not object to the song being recorded that way.

I do get irritated when one of my own creations gets radically altered (say by a band member) before it's had what I would consider a fair test. And I've taken a few songs "back" because of that. At other times I've been very pleased at the changes.

I often do some radical surgery on some of the poems that I adapt for singing, some are way too long and sometimes the words don't sound as good as they look on the printed page. I doubt if any of the poets would be very flattered when I do that, if they were around to comment.

However, with other poems such as "The Outside Track" by Henry Lawson, I've restored a verse that earlier singers had dropped. So sometimes it works both ways, assuming that you know where to find the original poem. On my website I always include my own lyrics as well as the original poem, if any, that I started from.

Still other poems I've worked with could be transformed seamlessly into song and that is a particular delight.

Dick Miles fitted C. Fox Smith's "Sailortown" so well to a tune that I can't imagine it being sung any other way. But I did some major reworking of one verse, and that was a judgment call that I still feel has merit.

Barry Finn doesn't leave much to tinker with after he's recorded a song. And I do believe I've heard a few other groups who have recorded songs that they learned directly from Barry.

And, Chas, sometimes it does take a lot of time to track down a song composer but it's generally a rewarding process in the end, and it's definitely the right thing to do.

Cheerily,
Charley Noble


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Subject: RE: Changing words to a copyrighted song??
From: Sandy Mc Lean
Date: 18 May 08 - 12:12 AM

Well Charley and I have worked together making subtle changes to "The King Of Maine". I am not comfortable changing the author's words but in this case the story was fantastic but the lines would not scan . I hope that changes made in order to make a song singable would meet with author
consent. No changes were made to either the story or content. No claim is made by me and if I sing the song I always credit the author, but sometimes you have to change a word or two or leave a great story untold.


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Subject: RE: Changing words to a copyrighted song??
From: Nick E
Date: 18 May 08 - 12:45 AM

Holy crap! I have not read a single word on this thread because there are too many in EVERY post, so sue me


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Subject: RE: Changing words to a copyrighted song??
From: Slag
Date: 18 May 08 - 01:05 AM

Richard B, Thank you! That's what I love about this site. I'm always learning something new!


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Subject: RE: Changing words to a copyrighted song??
From: Barry Finn
Date: 18 May 08 - 10:16 AM

Thanks Charlie for your kind words about my tinkering.

Thanks too Anne. I was talking more about the conscious changes and unconscious changes that you mentioned & have had expierence with.
I wasn't concerned with the parodies & the legal & technical stuff but more on the control & (un/legal) rights of the authors but these threads do go where they want.
If I wrote a song & hear someone singing it differently & they got it that way from someone else & had no idea of the original, I see it as a waste of time & effot to pull them up on it. I'd also see it as rude to correct them in public or even on the side. I would be interested in how it came to be different but in the end I would think that if it eventually got sung in a different manner, that would mean it had been processed by the "folk mill" & in doing so would in all probably be a better song for it. Would I sing it the same way I wrote it? Probably not if I thought the different way were a better version, would I chase singers down to get them to change it back, I think not. But then how many of us write a song that turns out multi versions, actually I say that if any one sang a song that I wrote I'd be fairly lucky.

Thanks
Barry


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Subject: RE: Changing words to a copyrighted song??
From: GUEST,Chief Chaos
Date: 18 May 08 - 05:10 PM

The "Parody" defense is meant to cover actual rewrites of songs where the meaning is intentionally changed and usually where a great deal of the lyrics have been re-written. It is not a parody to alter one or two words.

Personnaly I usually find that any changes to a song are usually ones I could have made but discarded because I'm afraid of overworking a lyric (or poem). Not that I have anything in circulation greater than in my own house! ;)


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Subject: RE: Changing words to a copyrighted song??
From: George Papavgeris
Date: 18 May 08 - 05:21 PM

Thanks for the clarification Richard.


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Subject: RE: Changing words to a copyrighted song??
From: Tootler
Date: 18 May 08 - 06:30 PM

From the website linked to by Monique:

"What is Copyright?

Copyright gives the creators of certain kinds of material rights to control ways their material can be used. These rights start as soon as the material is recorded in writing or in any other way. There is no official registration system. The rights cover:

       
  • copying;
       
  • adapting;
       
  • distributing;
       
  • communicating to the public by electronic transmission (including by broadcasting and in an on demand service);
       
  • renting or lending copies to the public; and,
       
  • performing in public"

In many cases, the author will also have the right to be identified on their works and to object if their work is distorted or mutilated.

The discussion seems to me largely to cover "adapting" (correct me if I am wrong), but looking at this there is one question that intrigues me.

Is there a distinction (in law) between "adapting" and "distorting or mutilating"?

Geoff


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Subject: RE: Changing words to a copyrighted song??
From: GUEST,Dave MacKenzie
Date: 18 May 08 - 06:52 PM

There's also the problem of material in the public domain being copyrighted. I recently heard Paul Jones expressing surprise that Mike Bloomfield's version of Blind Lemon Jefferson's "See That My Grave is Kept Clean" was attributed to A P Carter. I have heard that Carter copyrighted everything (having made minor textual changes) when the Carter Family first started their recording career. Dylan and Lightnin' Hopkins kept the Jefferson attribution.

A couple of years back, Ludlow Music won a civil case about a line in a pop song derived from a line in a Lowden Wainright, which was in turn derived from a Woody Guthrie song, both of whom are published by Ludlow. Unfortunately, the line in question was from a Guthrie cover of another Jefferson song, and in this case Woody had followed Jefferson almost verbatim.

At least (on my copy at least) the Dubliners attributed Child #274 as trad arr Dubliners.


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Subject: RE: Changing words to a copyrighted song??
From: GUEST
Date: 18 May 08 - 07:29 PM

Reading through my copy of "The Essential Ewan MacColl Songbook", I noticed that the music for one of my favourite songs, "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face", varied considerably from the tune that I thought I knew. I then viewed the Roberta Flack version on YouTube and heard, pretty much, the song I was familiar with. Not only had she changed at least one word in the first verse (To the dark and empty skies becomes To the dark and endless skies), but she seems to have taken considerable liberties with the melody. Checking other peoples versions, some seem to have the original " empty" while others perpetuate "endless".

As the book is the work of Peggy Seeger, the subject of the song, I take it that I have the authorised version. However , I would be prepared to bet that most people know the Roberta Flack version or something close to it, and would probably think that I was singing it wrong if I reproduced the original.

DC


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Subject: RE: Changing words to a copyrighted song??
From: Doug Chadwick
Date: 18 May 08 - 07:31 PM

Oops!

That was me above.

DC


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Subject: RE: Changing words to a copyrighted song??
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 18 May 08 - 07:59 PM

Thank God this kind of thing wasn't around until relatively recently, or we wouldn't have the wealth of traditional songs in their sprawling variety of versions.

It's sad to think of what is likely to be lost in the way of reworked versions of newer songs getting knocked into shape over the years.


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Subject: RE: Changing words to a copyrighted song??
From: GUEST,synbyn
Date: 19 May 08 - 05:08 AM

Live performance is one thing- so many of us have to substitute quickly if a word disappears- and for a songwriter that's often the way of sandpapering the song- often find that after 6 months when i return to the master copy first sung quite a lot has changed!
As long as the new singer correctly attributes the song it's OK imho, but i do agree that changes often put back in what people expect to hear rather than the surprises you've written in... however, recently a song was corrected geographically after 30 years by the recording artist... you can then claim it's a folk song of course, but that blurs the PRS thing in the UK... i think most people act honestly in this respect and give credit where it's due, and let's face it, 4/5 of the song at least is as per original or no-one would recognise it... and if it's a commercial undertaking then the author ought to be asked if changes are to be made and can respond accordingly... without poeple suggesting they're prickly if they insist on the original... just a bit of eau-de-nil there, Mr Picasso....


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