The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #10084 Message #68404
Posted By: Sandy Paton
06-Apr-99 - 12:27 AM
Thread Name: Pete Seeger's pseudonym
Subject: RE: Pete Seeger's pseudonym
It's all pretty murky, Don. Yes, MacColl used a lot of traditional tunes, such as those you mention, but he was always ready and willing to acknowledge his sources. Certain tunes seem to be great "utility" tunes (i.e. "Tramps and Hawkers" which Bonnie Dobson also used for "Peter Emberley"), and when they are given a completely new set of lyrics, as was done by MacColl, the law apparently permits them to be copyrighted along with the words. We were probably wrong to be as critical of Dylan as we were, just as we were probably naive when we obtained the copyright only on the splendid melody James Waters wrote for the "Great Silkie," one of the Child ballads (the tune that everybody now knows, and the one that Pete Seeger used for the Turkish poem about the "Little Girl of Hiroshima," thinking it was traditional). Legally, I'm told, we would have been able to collect on the "Great Silkie" words, as well, but that, frankly, seemed chickenshit to me, and still does. My complaint was that Dylan was using the tunes without crediting his sources, and some of those sources had actually been copyrighted by others earlier (Jean Ritchie by virtue of her prior publication of "Nottamun Town" in Singing Family of the Cumberlands, for instance), although I'm informed now that he finally did admit that he was gathering tunes from here and there. I don't know what financial arrangements, if any, were ever made for their use. We all know that Guthrie did it all the time, too. But knowing this doesn't make me want to obtain copyrights on traditional folk material in order to exploit it.
Michael Cooney once urged people who were recording traditional songs to get their labels to send equivalent royalty sums to the Archive of Folk Culture as a contribution. A good idea that none of us could afford! I suspect that very few of you realize what a small number of records (read "CDs" now) labels like ours actually sell. Ain't none of us gettin' rich off of this stuff, that's for sure. (Dammit!)