This is flawless: “You had to please the pontiff to publish pieces for the pipes.” 🤣

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Copyright on the blank paper is hilarious. Reminds me of when ASCAP started demanding license fees from makers of blank cassettes and dat tapes on the assumption that songwriters were owed for potential copies made on the media. I don’t know how that worked out.

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This is one of those times where someone starts talking about that thing you spent way too much time on that no one ever cares about.

During law school, I spent two years researching the situation regarding copyright and printing in early modern England.

Without boring everyone to death, let me just say that I think you're falling into a historiographic trap common to a lot of authors prior to maybe 1990. The traditional move was to look at all the apparent regulation of printing (including but certainly not limited to music) and conclude "Wow, that must have been really draconian! Nobody could publish anything!" But more recent research has gone in a different direction: "Huh. If any of this regulation was actually working, it doesn't seem like they'd have needed to pile on so much, or so often."

Far from the tightly-constrained, highly controlled environment that the official laws of the time describe, it turns out that the situation on the ground was an absolute free-for-all if pirate printers. "Piracy," in this period and context, didn't just mean "printing something without the author's permission," but extended to "printing anything whatsoever without the Crown's permission, as administered by the Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers," who had the royal patent on printing presses. There were a few exceptions (e.g., Oxford and Cambridge both got to run presses for their own use), but that was basically it.

Except that nobody, not the Crown, not the Stationers' Company, not the universities, could even manage to put a dent in the horde of pirate presses in constant operation throughout the period. Hence the need for ever-more-draconian regulations. The hope was that by threatening severe-enough punishments, people might decide it wasn't worth the risk. But the odds of enforcement were apparently so low that this never really stuck, leading to the eventual phasing-out of the patent idea entirely.

All of which to say that while it does seem rather odd that a single person would have such a huge scope of IP monopoly, in practice, the situation then was a lot less onerous than it sounds on paper.

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I recently became the librarian of a community orchestra having no previous music library experience and made the mistake of attempting to understand current copyright regulations. OMG, I gave up very quickly. My adopted strategy is to be as legal as we reasonably can be and not screw any composers and arrangers over.

I typically get marked up PDFs from the conductor who a adds bowing and other markings whom I assume has cleared all performance rights. I print, distribute, collect post performance, and drop in the recycling before I leave the hall. Yep, we’re all digital, but only I have 100% access.

I also do arrangements that only we use. It would be resource prohibitive to obtain permission to the letter of the law, so I do nothing to seek it (sorry, I use every spare minute just to compose the arrangements!). I often change the harmony, add counter melodies, and even write development sections, all of which we would have to get permissions for since according to copyright law it substantially alters its character. It’s a giant PIA. As a creator it’s too bad since if it were easy to do, I could sell my arrangements and also generate more revenue for them.

We’re small potatoes, so likely off the radar as pointed out.

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I’ve been suspicious of corporate buyouts of artist’s catalogs... yes there is money to be made, but is there enough return on equity to justify hundreds of millions of cash outlay? Here’s a guess: future ability to algorithmicly scrub through anything posted digitally to compare melody lines, harmonic and chord structures, lyric phrases for anything similar to the intellectual assets they purchased, and claim plagiarism and royalties owed on anything financially successful in the future that is, intentionally or not, derived from the past.

I may be way behind the curve on this, and would guess you’ve already discussed this, but generally speaking, anyone with that kind of money to throw around wouldn’t have it in the first place if they didn’t understand the actual and potential means by which they protect their investment and maximize their return.

Just like corporate agribusiness wants to own every seed that is planted, and is willing to bankrupt any farmer that defies them, it would make sense to expect the same behavior in this case.

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May 26·edited May 26

The compulsory music performance license law in the United States was first enacted in 1909. The law allows anyone to record and distribute a new version of a previously recorded song, without the permission of the original copyright holder. The only requirement is that the new recording must be made for commercial use and that the copyright holder is paid a royalty.

The compulsory license law was created to promote competition in the music industry. Before the law was enacted, The Aeolian player piano company negotiated exclusive licenses with copyright holders. This gave them a monopoly on the market and made it difficult for new player piano companies to compete since they had no access to popular music on their player rolls. Player pianos were the iPods of the day. Aeolian had the biggest factory in the entire country. The first color ad published in a magazine was for Aeolian. Big money indeed.

The compulsory license law has been credited with helping to break up the monopoly of the big record companies. It has also made it easier for new artists to get their music heard. However, the law has also been criticized for underpaying copyright holders.

In 2018, the compulsory license law was amended to increase the royalty rate paid to copyright holders. The new rate is 9.1 cents per song, or 1.75 cents per minute of playing time, whichever is greater.

The compulsory music performance license law is a complex and controversial issue. However, it is an important part of the music industry in the United States. The law helps to promote competition and make it easier for new artists to get their music heard.

Here are some of the key events in the history of the compulsory music performance license law in the United States:

1909: The compulsory license law is first enacted.

1976: The Copyright Act of 1976 is passed, which updates the compulsory license law.

1995: The Digital Performance Right in Sound Recordings Act is passed, which extends the compulsory license law to digital recordings.

2018: The compulsory license law is amended to increase the royalty rate paid to copyright holders.

Disclosure - mostly written by Google Bard with factual corrections and additional material by me

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Why is it so hard to fairly compensate creators and acknowledge inspiration or cite contributions to the work? Money and power corrupts, no matter who you are.

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Great article! I avoid most of this by playing most of my own work and I'm so far below the radar. Yet, somehow I got sideways on the rights of a short video clip in one of my song videos STILL! I immediately took it down, and now have to get the energy up to re-upload, change that clip to something else and re-publish! It was one of the BIG media companies with hordes of lawyers, who shall remain unnamed (for that very reason)

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The things they should have taught me at music college!

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Fascinating as ever. The eclectic nature of these articles is so refreshing. I had no idea about the history of Byrd and copyright in England.

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Another great article by Ted Gioia!

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the power of lawyers and the decline of society... take that for fwiw...

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Give them an inch and they take a mile.

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When copyright expires - publishers continue to collect royalties.

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There is of course the time honored practice of prominent artists demanding to have themselves noted as co composer of a number before they'll consider singing/ playing it.

I read in a Thelonius Monk biography that he tinkered with Round Midnight for a couple of years before taking it to Cootie Williams who had by then left Ellington and formed his own band. Cootie said he would play it if he could write an intro or additional section for it it, plus his buddy would write words for it. No one ever plays Cootie's additions but there his name is on the music.

I guess it's just sheer luck that we don't have copyright on chord progression, somebody up there must have been looking out for musicians. The idea must have been tested somewhere in a court case. Probably in a suit brought by George Gershwin.

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I had no idea about the copyright scene of the 16th century. What a ludicrous nightmare! Thanks for the info Ted.

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