Copyright Question

• Jun 2, 2013 - 21:43

Some legal questions.
If I make a chart in musecore of a song I don't own, let say "Take The A Train" by Duke Ellington/Bill Strayhorn.

1. Can I give that chart away and make as many copies I need for personal and educational use as long as I'm not selling it?
2. Is the chart mine or does it automatically belong to Duke Ellington/Billy?
3. Can I legally give the musecore file away?



Copy right means the right to copy. You cannot legally copy music that is under copyright without express approval. You have no rights to that tune if it is still under copyright. I am not a lawyer.

In reply to by Anonymous

As far as I know (I am not a lawyer) it is illegal. You could do more research on the 'net. Personally I make charts for my own use often. However, they are only chord charts, no melodies.

It has been a common practise in Jazz circles for many years to use the harmony of a piece of music, change the melody and record the new tune, gaining copyright for that melody.

Copyright law is a complete minefield which has specialist lawyers that deal with it.

This is exacerbated by the fact the different countries have different periods of time before music enters the public domain.

In the US and EU music is considered to enter the public domain 70 years after the death of the composer. So anything written by Duke Ellington will enter the public domain in 2044.

Having said that there are clauses regarding fair use in certain countries, including the US (but not the UK) which may cover the use you are describing. You will need to check with a copyright lawyer before doing anything, however.

Some would say that the act of producing a chart of the music is infringing the copyright of whoever owns Duke Ellington's rights (probably BMI or ASCAP).

The key here though is whether the lawyers think that they can make money out of you, and also whether you are making financial gain from your charts.

If you do want to sell them, then it is perfectly easy to get permission to do that, and costs a small fee.

The big caveat here though is do NOT try to publish stuff that BMI/ASCAP think they can make money from - they will come down on you like a ton of bricks if you haven't got the right (their) licences,

IMO the best thing to do is approach your local body which oversees copyright licensing and simply ask.

They will appreciate your desire to conform with the law.

To put things in perspective the last CD I produced with copyright material on it cost me £70 to licence from MCPS. That licence allowed me to distribute 1000 units of the 13 track CD.


Jun 3, 2013 - 00:21

In reply to by ChurchOrganist

To me it would seem my labor to transcribe the song gives me some limited property right to my created work. Not everyone can transcribe and arrange music. The legal question is do I own the fruits of my labor just like the artist who wrote the song has legal right to his labor. Where is the line in the sand? or is there a line? Making free copies for myself to use, my students and my band members should fall under some sort of "Fair Use" law. But does it?

In reply to by Anonymous

Re: "To me it would seem my labor to transcribe the song gives me some limited property right to my created work. Not everyone can transcribe and arrange music. The legal question is do I own the fruits of my labor just like the artist who wrote the song has legal right to his labor": You are welcome to fruits of your labour. However, what you are describing is using the fruits of another's labour.

You are perfectly welcome to generate an original piece and then use it in any way you wish, but that is not what you are describing. It seems to me that what you describe is comparable to going into a neighbour's garden, contributing unsolicited labour, and then imagining that you have rights to the harvest.

In reply to by Anonymous

You *do* have rights to your created work (since it is based on another person's work, it's called a "derivative work" in the US and most other countries). Your rights to your own (derivative) work mean that no one can use or make further copies of your (derivative) work without your permission. But that still doesn't give you the right to publicly distribute your (derivative) work without the permission of the person who owns the work upon which yours is derived. The moment they grant you that right, you then become allowed to publish your chart and distribute it however you like.

The line between a derivative work and not is drawn by the courts on a case by case basis when a copyright owner sues someone who they feel has published a derivative work without permission. You've probably heard of some of the most famous examples - George Harrison being successfully sued over the extend to which "My Sweet Lord" is derivative of "He's So Fine", any number of rappers being sued for sampling tracks, etc.

WHat you are describing isn't a close call at all. If your chart containing the original melody to an Ellington tune, it is derivative, period. The grey area would come in if you create a chart that, say, used the same chord progression and snippets of melody, but added a lot of your own original material. Then it might be conceivable that you'd win an infringement lawsuit brought on by the representatives of Ellington.

Again, law varies between countries. The US has a pretty clear "fair use" policy that specifically allows you to share your derivative work in certain ways. As Michael mentions, the UK does *not*. I don't know if that really means there is no concept of fair use at all or just that it is not as clearly defined.

There are better places than here to learn in the MuseScore forums more about copyright law. Plenty of good books, articles, web sites, etc. The US - and I imagine most other countries - even has the full text of the law available online:

Chapter 1 is really the main portion you'd care about. In particular, see section 107 on fair use.

I'm no lawyer either, but I have researched the matter fairly extensively. Making the chart is considered fair use in most countries. So is sharing it with friends and family. Making it *publicly* available - whether for money or free - is *not* considered fair use and is illegal in most countries. At least in the US, it doesn't generally matter if you make money from it or not. Actually, in some ways, giving it away for free is worse, because that diminishes the market for the original more so than your selling it and thus competing against the original directly in terms of price would, and it's the diminishing of the market that is really the prime motivator here.

In reply to by Anonymous

If you are not publishing them (making them public) then there should be no problem, and distributing them to a close circle of friends beyond which they will not be distributed should not be a problem.

But if you are uploading them to then you should make them private (viewable only by you) otherwise you would be perceived as publishing them by the copyright agencies.


In reply to by ChurchOrganist

Actually a close reading of comments on other legal sites would suggest that even if you purchased sheet music legally, any copy is illegal. That would include transcribing a perfect copy of lyrics and all music to Musescore whether you keep it private or not. Any change, including adding instruments, changing voicing or even the pitch (say from Soprano to Tenor) is a prohibited alteration. This includes keeping all the copyright citations in place on the transcribed score. The rationale for all of this is that if you buy a piece of sheet music you can only make a copy to protect against damage to the original where you would be unable to use the original, say in a performance. So if you need to have another copy you need to buy two originals, both of which become legal. A transcription "copy" saved on your computer Musescore folder does not satisfy these criteria. The law cites illegal copying and reproduction, not publishing so keeping it all for private use is still prohibited.

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