Sunday, June 30, 2013

Copyright permissions to set text to music an issue for composers

Here’s another copyright issue I had never thought about.  Brooklyn (New York) composer Timo Andres recently discussed composing vocal music and brought up the question of getting permission to set texts to music, when the music will be performed publicly and published.
   
He brings up the issue in a blog posting June 24, here. (He has a lot of other postings of interest to Apple MacBook users working with music -- like Sibelius -- and about the contributions of Steve Jobs.) 

I wonder if the issue of setting words to music fits into the discussion of derivative works.
  
There are some disturbing examples out there.  For example, on March 26, 2013 I discussed the poet who played copyright troll with her “Dash Poem” whenever if got read at church funerals, and on June 14 I took up the controversy over copyrighting the “Happy Birthday” song. 
   
I sent off an email to Electronic Frontier Foundation about this question.

It seems to me that a related question would occur with transpositions: let's say someone transcribes a guitar and band song to piano as an art song and performs it in recital. ("In the Moonlight" sounds like a good experiment.)  What are the copyright and permissions issues? 
   
For book authors, there are companies that will get permissions for quotes, but there is also a “Fair Use” doctrine which should make permission for short quotes unnecessary.  Yet, there is also the risk of frivolous litigation from a financial bully.  Some people say they really have to make a living from their stuff, because they have families to support!

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