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Copyrights and traditional tunes

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Okiemockbird 18 Jan 00 - 10:19 PM
clare s 18 Jan 00 - 07:16 PM
Joe Offer 18 Jan 00 - 06:09 PM
Sorcha 18 Jan 00 - 11:51 AM
mthompso 17 Jan 00 - 09:06 AM
jeffp 14 Jan 00 - 09:37 AM
mthompso 14 Jan 00 - 09:30 AM
GeorgeH 14 Jan 00 - 08:55 AM
Stupidbodhranplayerwhodoesn'tknowanybetter 13 Jan 00 - 07:23 PM
T in Oklahoma (Okiemockbird) 13 Jan 00 - 01:28 PM
MMario 13 Jan 00 - 01:15 PM
mthompso 13 Jan 00 - 01:13 PM
MMario 13 Jan 00 - 10:30 AM
mthompso 13 Jan 00 - 10:15 AM
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Subject: RE: Copyrights and traditional tunes
From: Okiemockbird
Date: 18 Jan 00 - 10:19 PM

I think Clare is exaggerating somewhat. The melody "Old Hundredth" is in the public domain. If I create an abc file or .gif file or .midi file containing nothing but the melody Old 100th then anyone may copy the melody from my abc file or .gif or .midi file. Copyright only extends to what is original. If I change the melody, then copyright covers my changes; but then the melody is no longer Old 100th, it's my adaptation of old 100th.

If I create an arragement with original harmonization, instrumentation, whatever, then the copyright covers the harmonization, instrumentation, or whatever. If I incorporate the melody with my arrangements in, say, a .midi file, then supposedly copyright covers the .midi file in the sense that no one may copy it entire without permission. But one is still permitted to transcribe the public domain melody itself (apart from my harmonization and so forth) by listening to the midi, or to use a software tool to reverse-engineer the midi to notation, extract the public domain melody, then delete the copyrighted stuff.

I don't see how an abc file of a strictly public domain melody can sustain a copyright in the melody (as opposed to any notes or comments that might be attached) any more than conventional musical notation of a public domain melody could sustain a copyright.

The question comes down to whether the melody is or is not in the public domain. Most so-called "traditional" melodies probably are, but there are pitfalls and complications. A melody might be an original composition yet escape to the oral tradition and there be mistaken for a folk song, as happened to "Silent Night" for a while. The flip side of this is when people falsely claim to be the authors of folk songs, saying that it was their own composition which escaped to the oral tradition against their wishes. This happened with "Home on the Range", though in that case the claim was eventually disproved after a months-long investigation.

As usual on the web, this post is strictly private opinion. Nothing in this post is legal advice or establishes a lawyer-client relationship (I'm not even a lawyer).


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Subject: RE: Copyrights and traditional tunes
From: clare s
Date: 18 Jan 00 - 07:16 PM


I was involved in trying to put together a book of Northumbrian pipe tunes about a year ago.

Unfortunately, for various reasons, the project didn't come to anything.

I did however spend some trying to work out the legality of publishing various tunes. The law is fairly confused, but as far as I could understand it - 'traditional' tunes are by their nature public domain - any arrangements, sheet music copies, midi files, abc files are the property of the author.

If the way you present them is your own work, then you should be fine. If you simply copy other people's presentation then you're breaking copyright law.

Having said that your chances of being found out or prosecuted are somewhat slim. You'll have to make a moral judgement.

Hope this helps


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Subject: RE: Copyrights and traditional tunes
From: Joe Offer
Date: 18 Jan 00 - 06:09 PM

Hi, mthompso - If you'd like to post your ABC tunes here, I don't see why it would be a problem. I just checked a 97-message thread to see how big it was, and it's 230k. Your 40k is a drip in the bucket compared to that. Just be sure you put line breaks <br> after every line, or it'll come out all mashed together. Don't think I'd like to have to edit a post that big after you put it up. If you have trouble with doing the HTML with search-and-replace, give me a holler. You sure don't want to do it line-by-line.
-Joe Offer-

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Subject: RE: Copyrights and traditional tunes
From: Sorcha
Date: 18 Jan 00 - 11:51 AM

Why don't you write to Oak Pub./David Brody and ask for permission to use the tunes in the Fake Book? Do you have "Biddy I'm Not Jesting"? Great tune, and it's in Miles Krassen's O'Neils, I can't figure out the timeing on abc, but I could send you the sheet music.

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Subject: RE: Copyrights and traditional tunes
From: mthompso
Date: 17 Jan 00 - 09:06 AM

The tunes take up a bit over 40K, a little too much to post here (Well, I could...)

If you send me your e-mail address, I would be glad to send them to you

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Subject: RE: Copyrights and traditional tunes
From: jeffp
Date: 14 Jan 00 - 09:37 AM

I would definitely be interested. If you don't want to post the ABCs here, send me a personal message and I'll respond with my email address. It sounds like a great resource, and I appreciate your taking the time to put it together and your willingness to share.


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Subject: RE: Copyrights and traditional tunes
From: mthompso
Date: 14 Jan 00 - 09:30 AM

Well, I have found the tunes by searching the internet. Several of them have diferent renditions, close to the same, but somewhat diferent.

How do I know the tunes are "Traditional"? That is a good question. I really don't know how to answer that. If the tune says jig, reel or slip jig, it at least gives you a clue. Some of them like "Da New Rigged Ship" are well know traditional tunes. in the ABC files, the source is usually left out, with a couple of exceptions. These exceptions are usually "I learned that at such and such session", or "Learned at a session, from the fiddlers fake book.

Anything that says it is from something like "The FIddlers Fake Book" I am throwing out. That still leaves me with about 80 tunes.

When I get these organized, any one want a copy? I could post the ABC's.

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Subject: RE: Copyrights and traditional tunes
From: GeorgeH
Date: 14 Jan 00 - 08:55 AM

In practice . . if you trust your friends there's no problem up to that point. Once you go beyond that you need to be careful. Especially if you're charging for the material (I don't think it makes any difference in law, but it does tend to attract more attention).

My guess is that the Fiddler's Fake Book may well claim that their tunes are their arrangements and so are subject to copyright.

I assume you have an ABC tune finder index. See if you can find two or more sources for your tune - if so, and provided they don't all agree on a (C) source, you've good evidence of it being either trad or PD.

All IMO and I'm not a lawyer, of course!


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Subject: RE: Copyrights and traditional tunes
From: Stupidbodhranplayerwhodoesn'tknowanybetter
Date: 13 Jan 00 - 07:23 PM

Be careful! People get in trouble for the stupidest things. I've heard stories of organizations like ASCAP (whom Utah Phillips describes as the scourge of the music industry) actually going so far as to harass sessions, ceilis and even go to festivals to make sure nobody's playing the wrong tunes or songs around the campfire. I know of a fiddle instuctor who's been asked for a list of tunes she teaches! It's ridiculous! All the best,


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Subject: RE: Copyrights and traditional tunes
From: T in Oklahoma (Okiemockbird)
Date: 13 Jan 00 - 01:28 PM

mthompso, In your place I'd try to document the public domain status of as many of the melodies as I can. This isn't always easy, but sometimes it can be done. Do any of the ABC files come with source information ?


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Subject: RE: Copyrights and traditional tunes
From: MMario
Date: 13 Jan 00 - 01:15 PM

so how do you identify them as traditional?

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Subject: RE: Copyrights and traditional tunes
From: mthompso
Date: 13 Jan 00 - 01:13 PM

Well, the formats I ma using are mostly ABC's. And with all traditional music, I do find several redentions od the smae tune, variations are nice. Most of these do not give any credit for author, or where they are from, the bet they have is the O field set to shetland.

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Subject: RE: Copyrights and traditional tunes
From: MMario
Date: 13 Jan 00 - 10:30 AM

what formats are you using? If they are all traditional tunes and NOT copyrighted arrangments of traditional tunes, then if you created the scores yourself, you should be okay.

Or if you can find sheet music showing that the exact rendition as you have it is definatley public should be okay

I would stay away from downloaded gifs, pdfs, etc - as the creator of the gif would have a copyright on the gif itself; if you create scores from someone's midi, I would think that you would at least want to check with them for permission.

my two cents worth


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Subject: Copyrights and traditional tunes
From: mthompso
Date: 13 Jan 00 - 10:15 AM

I am putting together a collection of shetland tunes. So far I have scoured the net for tunes, I have found about 80 of them. I want to make sure that when I print this collection out, that I am not stepping on anyones toes (don't need the agrivation). My plan for this collection is to print it out for several friends, and possibly distribute it a bit more widely. Since these are what I think are public domain tunes, is there anything I should do to make sure that I am not ripping any one else off? I have several tunes that say they are from the fiddlers fake book, since the tunes themselves are public domain, is it alright to use these tunes? Is there anything else I should watch out for?

Thanks for the help and suggestions.

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