The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #157949   Message #3732225
Posted By: Joe Offer
21-Aug-15 - 07:17 PM
Thread Name: The biggest copyright scam!
Subject: RE: The biggest copyright scam!
Hi, Alan - there are experts you can hire to sort that out for you, and that sort of thing could be beneficial to many people who have legitimate claims to rights for music. Joining a musicians' union might be a good idea.

I'm looking from a different position, however. I hate to see access to music be suppressed. I think music should be for all to enjoy, at reasonable or no cost. It bothers me to see music viewed as a commodity that is owned and protected. And most especially, I hate to see songs and recordings taken out of circulation to protect the ability of rights holders to make big money off a few successful pieces. Many, many obscure but excellent songs and recordings are lost because somebody suppresses access to thousands of pieces to protect their right to make a killing on a very few.

I spent the last year working on the Rise Again Songbook, sequel to Rise Up Singing. There was an earlier book in the series, Winds of the People, but my understanding is that that book was surpressed because it did not have copyright permissions. Rise Up Singing was published by the Sing Out! folk music magazine, and the nonprofit publisher purchased permissions or the rights holders donated permissions.

Rise Again, which comes out next week, has the same editors, Peter Blood and Annie Patterson. The publisher is Hal Leonard, a for-profit music publisher in Milwaukee. Since we aren't published by a nonprofit this time around, we couldn't solicit donated permissions, so we paid "the standard 12%" for every song that wasn't in the public domain. That's 12% of the $25 cover price of the book, divided by the 1200 songs in the book, or $0.0025 per song, per book. So, if we sell 100,000 copies, the songwriter gets $250, or $2,500 if we sell a million copies [Rise Up Singing sold 800,000].

Hal Leonard had established contracts for many of the pop songs we used, and it was my job to track down copyright holders that the Hal Leonard guy and editor Peter Blood couldn't contact. I have close to a 100% contact rate, but some people wouldn't give us permission, no matter how much we groveled.

Oh, and then there were other songs that should be in the public domain that we had to pay for, mostly Carter Family songs. And then there's "Henery the Eighth." It's a British music hall song published in 1906, but we had to pay for it because it was not published in the United States until the Herman's Hermits recording in the 1960s.

It surprised me how little money the songwriters got for their work, but I suppose it's the only way we could produce a book with 1,200 songs at a reasonable price. It makes me realize why it costs so much for sheet music.

So, it's a complicated issue. I don't know what the right answer is, but I think the public should have access to all songs and all recordings at no cost after a reasonable amount of time, maybe 25 years after publication.